Shadow Plays: Virtual Realities in an Analog World

History at a Glance: The Garibaldi Panorama: Transmedia History-telling

Transmedia History-telling

Battles are now fought in an amphitheatre with the eager public of a hundred nations, in a figurative sense, looking on...The duel between Garibaldi and the Neapolitan Viceroy is being fought out under eyes of newspaper correspondents, tourists, artists, and English and American sympathizers.

—The London Times 38

As argued earlier, panoramic storytelling synthesizes the infotainment system of its time: by translating a variety of sources into a compelling narrative, it perfectly embodies the new “theater” (or amphitheater, as the quote above has it) on whose global stage battles are almost simultaneously fought and viewed. Spectacular landscapes provide the imaginative backdrop to the action. A brief survey of its major sources further illustrates how the Garibaldi panorama implements its unique combination of adventurous romance, historical observation, and touristic sightseeing.

A familiar name is mentioned among J. J. Story’s main authorities on the inside cover of the manuscriptlink accompanying the panorama: Alexandre Dumas. In May 1860, as Garibaldi was about to sail for Sicily, the celebrated author of The Count of Monte Cristo had just completed and published The Memoirs of Garibaldi, based on handwritten notes provided by Garibaldi himself. Immediately translated into English, the “autobiography” of Garibaldi—written by Dumas—is a highly influential development in the “invention” of Garibaldi as a hero, through the construction of his exemplary life in the media of his time.39 The Italian journalist Giovanni Battista Cuneo was the first to establish, in his 1850 biography of Garibaldi, “a standardized literary formula, the adventure that the life imagined enhances the appeal of the real,” a formula which also characterizes the countless biographical sketches and portraits published in the British press in 1860.40 It clearly applies to side one of Story’s panorama, which adopts the same three-part sequential narrative devised by Cuneo: (1) “the series of minor adventures [of the hero] as a young man”—corresponding to the episode depicted in scene 1 of the panorama in which the teenaged Garibaldi reveals his “undaunted courage” (fig. 8); (2) “the perilous and character-forming journeys across South America”—the object of the following sequence of the panorama, the battle at Rio Grande, Brazil (fig. 9); (3) “the major ‘quest’—the epic battle for Rome,” the central sequence of side 1, with the Romantic coda of Anita’s tragic death (fig. 10).41

Dumas’s best-selling contribution to Garibaldi’s self-fashioning as a hero, however, is not the main source of Story’s multimedia adaptation.42 The bulk of the story, as well as some of images that inspired key scenes, are copied from another source, the Illustrated Life and Career of Garibaldi.43 An anonymous reviewer in the Illustrated London News describes it as “a little book...containing full details of [Garibaldi’s] conduct, daring enterprises, escapes, conquests, and reverses...compiled from authentic documents supplied by Garibaldi himself,” including “illustrations...taken from sketches drawn on the spot by French and Italian artists attached to the different corps commanded by that General”—a description that almost verbatim echoes the advertisements for the panorama.44 It is easy to understand why Story was attracted to this source: not only does the book follow the formula sketched above closely, but it also includes compelling images to illustrate it. Illustrations from the book are the identifiable sources for scenes 1, 3, 13, 26, and 31 of the panorama (figs. 11–15). Yet, like Dumas’s book, Story’s undisclosed source has a flaw: it stops short of contemporary events, as a reviewer notes: “Garibaldi’s marvellous descent on Sicily has not yet become the property of history, and our knowledge of his movements is principally restricted to official bulletins.”45 It is to the latter that Story turned in order to bring the illustration of Garibaldi’s adventures up to date.

In addition to the Illustrated Life, illustrated newspapers, and the Illustrated London News (ILN) in particular are the authorities that both sanction the panorama’s realism and bestow immediacy on panoramic storytelling. Indeed, if side 1 of the panorama translates the past into a virtual present, side 2 incorporates the news presently coming from southern Italy into the biographical romance. Yet, the trope that unifies all the various sources on which the panorama draws is a specific kind of virtual travel: war tourism. War tourism—the combination of virtual travel and the spectacle of war—cuts across all media on which the panorama as a medium is based. Let’s take for example one of the major sources of the Garibaldi panorama: the work of Frank Vizetelly, war correspondent for the ILN from Sicily. As Lucy Riall has written, Vizetelly’s reports decidedly contributed to “shifting the emphasis to war as escapist entertainment.”46 Presented as eyewitness accounts, accompanied by sketches drawn on site, Vizetelly’s reporting illustrated events as they happened, capturing them live for his readers: “Garibaldi is fighting in the town,” he wrote in one of his wired correspondences, “I am going to chance the shots. Lots of sketches and a long letter by the next ship. One is now leaving the harbour. Whiz! all the dust dashed up near me. In great haste.”47 Embedded in the Garibaldian troops, the war correspondent implicitly turned himself into a protagonist; drawing the reader into the action, his reporting foreshadowed both cable TV and comic strips.48 Many of the ILN engravings that are the sources of key panorama scenes from the Sicilian and Neapolitan campaign are based on sketches drawn on site by Vizetelly. See for example “The Battle on the Volturno: The Final Repulse of the Neapolitans” and “View of Capua, from Monte St. Angelo” (1860), published in the ILN Supplementlink, October 20, 1860, the sources for scenes 45link and And scene 41,link although entitled “The Battle of Milazzo,” is also based on a Vizetelly sketch engraved in ILN,link October 30, 1860: “My last look at Sicily; taken by our special artist, Frank Vizetelly, from the coast of Calabria, between Reggio and St. Giovanni” (1860).

Yet, also earlier episodes of the panorama reflect the same process. The various stages of transformation from sketch to scene are exemplified in the sources for scene 18, “Garibaldi defending Rome in 1849”: from the sketch drawn on site by the ILN correspondent, George Housman Thomas, and the engraving in the paper, the image further evolves into a small-sized paintinglink by Thomas to be finally turned by Story into the large panorama tableau which restores to the scene its “virtual presence” (figs. 16–17).

This virtually realistic system of representation cuts across the media of the time, words and images. In his books about the Garibaldian campaign in Sicily, Dumas adopted a similar narrative strategy. As he recounts in the opening pages of 1861’s The Garibaldians in Sicily, while on a cruise in the Mediterranean on his yacht Emma, he landed in Genoa on May 16, 1860, just in time to learn that the general had sailed in secrecy for Sicily a few days earlier.49 Dumas tells his reader how he frantically worked sixteen hours a day in his room at the Hotel de France in Genoa to turn the news coming from Sicily into a compelling narrative, full of “picturesque” details but “entirely truthful.” With a clever flashback, the reader is transported by Dumas to the eve of what was going to be “one of the greatest events of the nineteenth century.” With the flair of a consumed storyteller, Dumas is recording the history of his time—in real time—thus competing with the same news outlets that provide his materials. As the Illustrated London News somewhat caustically commented on August 4, 1860, Dumas’s intention might have well been to write “the history of the revolution,” but the result “will in reality be a Sicilian romance, with all the information gleaned left and right, and from opposite sources, crammed into it”—precisely like a panorama. “No offence to our neighbors across the Channel,” the reviewer concluded, “but they have a most extraordinary fashion of relating actual occurrences.”50 The result is another “instant book,” a travelogue whose title, Viva Garibaldi! Une Odyssée en 1860 (An Odyssey in 1860), echoes the panorama advertisements, including the unmistakable appeal of an adventurous journey (fig. 18).51

The same spirit of Dumas’s travelogue indeed informs Story’s panorama, a virtual journey with the panoramic superhero: “the patron saint of all the lovers of Italy,” “a man of antique virtues, greater, more daring, more simple, than we moderns,” as the London Review wrote on August 25, 1860—just two weeks before Story inscribed his name on the manuscript of the “Panorama Lecture of the Heroic Life and Care(er) of Garibaldi.”

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