Shadow Plays: Virtual Realities in an Analog World

History at a Glance: The Garibaldi Panorama: Romancing the Hero

Romancing the Hero

There is no instance in which the appearance of a public personage in Great Britain, native or foreign, has produced deeper or more universal enthusiasm. Even the loyal demonstrations made on great occasions in honor of Her Majesty, have been surpassed by that in honor of this poor foreigner. The aristocracy vied with the populace, and men of the highest official station were proud to welcome the red-shirted Revolutionist.

The New York Times 30

Garibaldi was an ideal candidate for the role of panoramic superhero. Between the second half of 1860 and the first months of 1861, with the progression and triumphal conclusion of the Sicilian expedition, Garibaldi’s fame had rapidly spread from London to the countryside. The general had sailed from Quarto, near Genoa, to Marsala, Sicily, on May 5, and from that point onward, news and images of his Sicilian campaign reached provincial readers through the war bulletins sent daily by correspondents and published in the illustrated press.31 As Marcella Pellegrino Sutcliffe writes, “Major panorama impresarios jumped on the Garibaldi bandwagon.”32 A kind of Garibaldimania set the stage for the arrival of Bianco’s cartoons in Derby and Nottingham, the two places the moving panorama was exhibited between December 1860 and February 1861.33 Under the name M. Bianco, the panorama’s real creator, John James Story of Nottingham, capitalized on this moment, perhaps caught up himself in the enthusiasm surrounding the hero and his exploits. In the summer of 1860, Nottingham was under the spell of the Italian hero. A Garibaldi band performed daily in the streets, as we learn from a series of advertisements published in the Nottinghamshire Guardian (August–September 1860). The same paper also mentions a Garibaldi Fund, one among many similar fundraising initiatives on behalf of the general’s expedition to Sicily that appeared all over the United Kingdom, receiving the contributions of such illustrious personalities as Charles Darwin, Lady Byron, the Duke of Wellington, Lady Palmerston, and Florence Nightingale.34 Perhaps nothing better than the Guardian’s editorial of June 14, 1860, can give a sense of the “cordial and substantial sympathy manifested for Garibaldi in all parts of [England].” The article portrays Garibaldi as a gallant hero who faces his enemies in the open field, not as a conspirator or a terrorist “of the Mazzinian stamp” who plots his attacks in the shadows—a portrait clearly meant to gain Garibaldi the support of the more moderate sections of the liberal public opinion.35 Finally, on Thursday, May 31, 1860, the Nottinghamshire Guardian published a “Memoir of Garibaldi,” a rather poetic biographical sketch that ends with a Pindaric flight worthy of the epic dimension of the hero’s contemporary popularity:

Among the mountains, traversing the oceans, or fronting the enemy on the plain, he beholds everything with the same discriminating and sagacious eye, sharp as a hawk’s and far-seeing as an eagle’s. Such is Garibaldi, whom Providence seems to have destined for the regeneration of the fairest land which spreads its velvet sward beneath the canopy of the sky.36

The eagle’s eye view embodied by the hero perfectly translated into the panoramic medium. In the beginning of September 1860, John James Story began to sketch the lecture for the panorama he was painting, inspired by the same Romantic spirit on display in the Guardian’s article and the urgency of the dispatches from southern Italy. The simulation displayed here demonstrates the mechanism that enabled the staging of the panorama and gives the user an idea of the settings in which the spectacle took place: multipurpose venues typical of the Victorian era like Derby’s Mechanics Lecture Hall and Nottingham’s Corn Exchange Hall.37 Our model is in fact based on a short reviewlink of the performance in Nottingham that also speaks of a musical accompaniment. As this ad shows, M. Bianco’s “moving cartoons” evolved into a “moving diorama”: perhaps props were added, along with lighting and other special effects, in a setting not much different from that of the Eidophusikon;link or perhaps this term was simply used as a synonym of panorama. The simulation presented here enables the reader to pause on a few scenes, accompanied with quotes from the manuscript and other sources which emphasize the optical nature of the narrative. This interactive view underscores the mental montage required from the audience: the audience has to fill in the gaps between the scenes, guided by the voiced narration, in order to produce a vision in motion that takes the spectators on a virtual journey—in the general’s footsteps.

Simulation: The Garibaldi Panorama


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