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Geographies of Contact

Caroline Lehni
Fanny Moghaddassi
Hélène Ibata
et al.

IV. Sites Turned into Sights

The Orient at Leicester Square: Virtual Visual Encounters in the First Panoramas

Hélène Ibata

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In its early days, at the turn of the nineteenth century, the panorama was arguably the most sophisticated technology of virtual reality that had yet been developed. This vast circular painting fitted into a cylindrical building aimed to offer viewers the illusion of full immersion within real environments, as if they had been instantly transported from the heart of a bustling metropolis to an exotic city or a remote wilderness. Robert Barker, who had patented the invention in 1787 and opened the first permanent rotunda at Leicester Square in 1794, had designed an illusionistic apparatus that proved especially apt at providing such an experience and ensured the success of the medium for decades afterwards. This included a method to paint an entire 360° view without apparent distortion on the horizon line, as well as a purpose-built rotunda, with indirect lighting from the top and an access to the central viewing platform from below (rather than through a side door) so as to preserve...


Senior lecturer at the University of Strasbourg. Following a doctoral thesis on William Blake, her research has focused on British art of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Her most recent publications include essays on J.M.W. Turner, William Blake, nineteenth-century book illustration and orientalist illustration, in the European Romantic Review, Romanticism and Victorianism on the Net, The British Art Journal, and Word and Image. She is currently writing a book on the sublime in British Romantic art.

© Presses universitaires de Strasbourg, 2017

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