Narrative scene or landscape painted to conform to a curved or flat background, which surrounds or is unrolled before the viewer. Popular in the late 18th and 19th centuries, it was an antecedent of the stereopticon and motion pictures. The true panorama is exhibited on the walls of a large cylinder, and the viewer stands on a platform in the cylinder's centre and turns around to see all points of the horizon. The first panorama, a view of Edinburgh, was executed in 1788 by the Scottish painter Robert Barker (1739–1806). In the mid-19th century the rolled panorama became popular: a painting on canvas was wound between two poles and slowly unrolled behind a frame or revealed in sections.
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In its most general sense, a panorama is any wide view of a physical space. It has also come to refer to a wide-angle representation of such a view — whether in painting, drawing, photography, film/video, or a three-dimensional model. Further, the motion-picture term, pan or panning, is derived from "panorama".
The word was originally coined by the Scottish painter Robert Barker to describe his panoramic paintings of Edinburgh. Shown on a cylindrical surface and viewed from the inside, they were exhibited in London in 1792 as "The Panorama".
In the mid 19th century, panoramic paintings and models became a very popular way to represent landscapes and historical events. Audiences of Europe in this period were thrilled by the aspect of illusion, immersed in a winding 360 degree panorama and given the impression of standing in a new environment. The Dutch marine painter Hendrik Willem Mesdag created and established the Panorama Mesdag of The Hague, Netherlands, in 1881, a cylindrical painting more than 14 meters high and roughly 40 meters in diameter (120 meters in circumference). In the same year of 1881, the Bourbaki Panorama in Lucerne, Switzerland, which exhibits a circular painting, was created by Edouard Castres. The painting measures about 10 meters in height with a circumference of more than 100 meters. Another example would be the Atlanta Cyclorama, depicting the Civil War Battle of Atlanta. It was first displayed in 1887, and is 42 feet high by 358 feet wide. Even larger than these paintings is the Racławice Panorama localed in Wrocław, Poland, which measures 120 x 15 meters.
Panoramic photography soon came to displace painting as the most common method for creating wide views. Not long after the introduction of the Daguerreotype in 1839, photographers began assembling multiple images of a view into a single wide image. In the late 19th century, panoramic cameras using curved film holders employed clockwork drives to scan a line image in an arc to create an image over almost 180 degrees. Digital photography of the late twentieth century greatly simplified this assembly process, which is now known as image stitching. Such stitched images may even be fashioned into crude virtual reality movies, using one of many technologies such as Apple Computer's QuickTime VR or Java. A rotating line camera such as the Panoscan allows the capture of very high resolution panoramic images and eliminates the need for image stitching.
On rare occasions, panoramic, 360° movies have been constructed for specially designed display spaces — typically at theme parks, world's fairs, and museums. Starting in 1955, Disney has created 360° theaters for its parks and the Swiss Transport Museum in Lucerne, Switzerland, features a theater that is a large cylindrical space with an arrangement of screens whose bottom is several meters above the floor. Panoramic systems that are less than 360° around also exist. For example, Cinerama used a curved screen and IMAX movies are projected on a dome above the spectators.
One final form of panoramic representation is digital mapping generated from SRTM data. In these diagrams, a computer calculates the panorama from a given point.