Shadow Plays: Virtual Realities in an Analog World

History at a Glance: The Garibaldi Panorama: From Aspromonte to the New World

From Aspromonte to the New World

The wide mediatic resonance of the Day of Aspromonte is also a prelude to the panorama’s last voyage to America. A portrait of Garibaldi at Varignano—the hospital near La Spezia, on the Tyrrhenian coast, where the wounded hero was transported and imprisoned—was published on September 27, 1862, in the Illustrated London News (fig. 26). It depicted him in a melancholic pose, his chin resting on his fist, his bandaged leg stretched on a stool, while the shadowy profile of a guarding bersagliere looms in the background. This drawing, by Jean-Adolphe Beaucé (1818–1875), is accompanied by an article eloquently entitled “The Prisoner of Italy.”78 The October 4 issue of the Illustrated London News published additional drawings by the French artist, including a view of Varignano which is the source of the last tableau of the panorama (figs. 27–28). From an advertisement published in The Era in January 1863, we learn that a few weeks later J. J. Story put the panorama up for sale. There is no evidence that the version of the panorama with the additional Aspromonte scenes was ever exhibited. From the Brown library acquisition record, we learn that Anthony Burford, “a member of a Cotswold family, who had emigrated to the United States in 1854” and settled in East Liverpool, Ohio, bought the panorama from Story while on a visit to the old country and brought it back to the United States, where he “attempted to show it, but had little success.”79 An article published in the Evening Review of East Liverpool on September 4, 1934, provides some additional details about Burford’s purchase for a sum “between 30 and 40 pounds, equivalent to $150 in 1863” (about $4,000 in current value): noting that this spectacle can be described “as an early moving picture in a sense,” the article confirms that Burford had limited success in exhibiting the panorama, mostly in the surrounding areas, including West Virginia and Pennsylvania.80

Indeed, an advertisement published in the Pittsburgh Daily Post on January 1, 1864, announces a series of performances of the Garibaldi Panorama at Lafayette Hall, known as the “cradle of the GOP” because, back in 1856, it had hosted the first National Convention of the Republican Party: the performances of “this celebrated work of art” featured a lecture by “Mr. A. Benford,” clearly a misspelling of Burford’s name.81 Interestingly, according to the same advertisement, the artwork exhibited in Pittsburgh contained “49 views,” which would suggest that the additional scenes of the Aspromonte battle were not included in the spectacle. Yet, the Evening Review article also states that “the huge canvas contain[ed] the scenes of fighting in Italy before, during, and after the American Civil war”: the only scenes of the panorama depicting events that happened after the start of the American Civil War were indeed the scenes of the Aspromonte battle. The connection with the Civil War does exist and can perhaps provide an explanation for both Anthony Burford’s investment in a Garibaldian spectacle, in 1863–1864, and its limited success.

The author of the 1934 article, Tom T. Jones, attributes the panorama’s limited circulation to the circumstances in which Anthony Burford tried to exhibit it: “Since the Civil War was then in progress people were not much taken with European war scenes. Neither were they in the years thereafter since for a while Americans were surfeited with views of fighting after the completion of the sanguinary four-year clash between the north and the south.”82 This may be true, but perhaps a more nuanced explanation is in order. As we have seen, Garibaldi’s popularity in the U.K. actually reached its peak in 1864, in the aftermath of the Aspromonte episode, which made the hero’s wound a political and medical cause célèbre. In North America, as in England, the general’s popularity had exploded at the time of the Sicilian expedition, a year before the official beginning of the Civil War: on the annual celebration of America’s independence in 1860, “Garibaldi, ‘the Washington of Italy,’ as he became known, shared in the honors which were everywhere paid by orators to the father of the United States.”83 At the time when Anthony Burford embarked on his short-lived panorama impresario career, Garibaldi’s fame was still rising in the aftermath of the Aspromonte battle, and this was not limited to the United Kingdom.

In the months and weeks preceding the panorama exhibits in Ohio and western Pennsylvania, the famous Irish radical Thomas Mason Jones, himself a veteran of Garibaldi’s campaigns, toured the same areas (including New York, Brooklyn, and Philadelphia) with a performance that newspapers describe as an illustrated lecture: a “celebrated oration” entitled “Garibaldi and Italy,” comprising “The Story of Garibaldi’s Life, Word-Paintings of Garibaldi’s Battles, Pictures of Italy under Despotic Rule, Sketches of Italy in the Dawn of Her Regeneration.”84 Details of Jones’s multimedia lectures as reported by local newspapers are interesting. As a review in the Cleveland Daily Leader reports, their success was enormous: “The peroration was little short of sublime, and was closed amid a thunder of applause, such as rarely awakens the echoes of the Academy of Music.” The review also provides a description of the performance: “Beside what Mr. Jones so eloquently says of Garibaldi, he drew vivid pictures of interesting scenes through which he had passed, among other scenes graphically describing the way in which the monster Bomba of Sicily was in the habit of confining the victims of his suspicion or caprice.”85 Indeed, this description is tantalizingly reminiscent of two prison and torture scenes included on side 2 of the Garibaldi panorama: scene 38, the “Bagno d’Ischia” (“Jailhouse”), and scene 39, the “Chamber of Horrors” of the Monreale prison near Palermo, both infamous dungeons of King Bomba, as Ferdinand II of the Two Sicilies was nicknamed for ordering a savage bombing of the city-port of Messina in 1848 (figs. 29–30).86

Is this just a coincidence? Is there a connection between Thomas Mason Jones’s word paintings and the life of Garibaldi as illustrated by the panorama? Or is this just another confirmation that Garibaldi’s legend continued to circulate widely in a variety of transmedia storytelling forms? The stories all share a certain structure: they presented the defeat of 1848 and the victorious redemption of the Sicilian campaign, fourteen years later, as the two inseparable acts of Garibaldi’s illustrated life and career. Why wouldn’t “this beautiful and instructive panorama which portrays the life and services of the Washington of Italy, Garibaldi, together with the varied scenery of that diversified country,” as the Pittsburgh paper describes it, capture the imagination of Ohioans or Pennsylvanians just a few months later in 1864?87 Perhaps it was indeed because, after four years of Civil War, American audiences were “surfeited with views of fighting.”88

Yet, another question looms: Why were the scenes of Aspromonte added by Story not included in the American show? Not only did the battle and its aftermath resonate in North America, but they are connected to another interesting episode in the life of our hero. On October 26, 1862, the same portrait of “Garibaldi, Wounded and a Prisoner” at Varignano, published three weeks earlier in the Illustrated London News, appeared on the front page of the popular American magazine Harper’s Weekly. A short article accompanying the image linked Garibaldi to the American Civil War that had begun two years earlier, describing an offer extended to Garibaldi “to accept a command in our army in case it should be tendered.”89 The episode the article refers to is well documented by historians; it was not the first time that representatives of the Union had attempted to recruit the general to their cause. An offer had been previously extended in 1861, after the conclusion of the Sicilian expedition, when Garibaldi was temporarily back in his hermitage at Caprera.90 And again, right after Aspromonte, the invitation was renewed through diplomatic channels.91 On September 25, 1862, the London Times reported in an editorial, also printed in the New York Herald on October 6, that “it is not impossible that we may yet see Garibaldi crossing the Atlantic in the assumed character of an American citizen, and fighting for the subjugation of a nation struggling to be free.”92 Perhaps Anthony Burford read these reports and, like J. J. Story in 1860, saw a unique opportunity when he decided to buy the panorama in 1863; thinking that a “Garibaldi moment” was brewing on the other side of the Atlantic, perhaps he dreamed of spectators rushing to admire the magnificent moving cartoons of the Illustrated Life and Career of Garibaldi. Perhaps he also thought of an advertisement to be placed in newspapers: “Viva Garibaldi!”—two hours with Garibaldi, the panoramic superhero, on his way to appear in flesh and blood on the scene of the American Civil War at the head of a battalion of international volunteers, like the “Garibaldi Guard” that paraded in front of Abraham Lincoln on July 4, 1861—as shown in this engraving based on a sketch by none other than the ubiquitous Frank Vizetelly (fig. 31).

There is no direct evidence to support this conjecture, but it is quite plausible, as it is also plausible to assume that when Anthony Burford’s plans to exhibit the panorama came to fruition at the beginning of 1864, it was already clear that the Hero of the Two Worlds would not be returning to America, in person, to fight for the Union. Notwithstanding the efforts of American recruiters, General Garibaldi never accepted the offers to join the ranks of Lincoln’s army. The hypothetical involvement of Garibaldi in the American Civil War remains indeed an unwritten chapter, a tantalizing sequel that never was to the Garibaldian story: the reasons are still open to debate among historians, having perhaps to do with Garibaldi’s request to be granted “full authority” in freeing the slaves, an authority that Lincoln was reluctant to grant him; or perhaps, with Garibaldi’s reluctance to engage in another “fratricidal” war while his Italian mission—“Rome or death!”—remained unaccomplished (Rome was to be united with the Italian kingdom in 1870).93 Whatever the explanation, Garibaldi’s story by 1864 had perhaps lost its immediate appeal in North America, while the general in person was triumphantly greeted in London.

What we are left with, in the end, are the eloquent last scenes of the panorama, the temporary conclusion to Garibaldi’s illustrated life and career as of 1862: the melancholic image of the wounded hero, frustrated once again in the accomplishment of his fatal life mission (Rome, the elusive prize)—the image of the “prisoner of Italy,” symbol of another Civil War. What remains is also a peculiar time capsule, both physical and virtual: the panorama of M. Bianco and J. J. Story and Anthony Burford has reached us as a testimonial to a historic moment for Italy and for Britain—and perhaps, also a missed opportunity for American audiences—to see the greatest panoramic superhero in action, in full color, and glance at history-in-the-making as in an early moving picture.

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