Shadow Plays: Virtual Realities in an Analog World

Further Insights: Who Created the Panorama?

Further Insights

Who Created the Panorama?

Garibaldi was an early follower of the great conspirator and prophet of republican democracy, Giuseppe Mazzini. One wonders whether behind the M. Bianco mentioned in the Derby Mercury ad might be one of the many expatriates gathered in those years in London around Mazzini. Indeed, the ad’s exclamations of “Viva Garibaldi!” and “Viva l’Italia!” evoke calls to battle for the Italian national revolution. As we shall see, Nottingham, where the panorama was made, was also swept up in the enthusiasm surrounding the Italian cause for unification, embodied by the general and his red shirts. However, we do not have any information about a panorama impresario or showman named M. Bianco: there is no mention of him in the manuscript that accompanies the panorama, nor has any trace emerged of an artist or impresario by that name. Thus, we must conclude that M. Bianco is most likely an Italianate nickname adopted by the panorama’s author to market his show to a public enthused by the news of Garibaldi’s exploits, which reached Britain (and the rest of Europe) in the late summer and autumn of 1860. Indeed, many clues provided by a rare manuscript accompanying the panorama also acquired by the Brown library and entitled “Panorama Lecture of the Heroic Life and Care(er) of Garibaldi,”link whose last owner was Grace Burford—as we shall see, a descendant of the family that brought the artifact to America—point to its creator’s true identity.

The inside cover of the manuscript bears the following words in its upper right corner: “J. J. Story, Burton Street, Nottingham, Sept. 7th, 1860.” The son of a cordwainer (shoemaker), born in 1827, John James Story is described in the 1861 census as a widower aged thirty-three living on Burton Street with his parents and sisters; his profession is listed simply as “artist.” Traces of our panoramist’s life and career are very scant indeed. According to town censuses, in 1871, he is remarried to a Jane and still living in Nottingham with his parents at a different address. In 1881, he and Jane have a daughter, Emily Jackson, and his profession is listed as “photographic artist.” Finally, in 1891, his profession changes again, to “landscape artist,” and he is mentioned as such in the records of several “open exhibitions” in the Nottingham Castle annual show from 1881 to 1893.7 Perhaps the most notable trace of J. J. Story in our possession is a laconic obituary, in the Nottinghamshire Guardian of December 2, 1858: “On the 23rd ult., aged 28, Mary Ann, wife of Mr. John James Story, artist, Havelock St., Nottingham.” Here we learn that Story became a widower at thirty-one years of age, only two years before painting the panorama.8 Might this have influenced his sympathy for the plight of the Italian general who had also lost his wife in tragic circumstances? One of Story’s paintings exhibited at Nottingham Castle shows a stream running through a wooded landscape: its somewhat somber palette has the glassy quality of a magic lantern slide, reminiscent of the backdrop to the dramatic scene of the panorama depicting the woods around Ravenna—the setting of Anita’s death. (fig. 3). However, the image of Anita fainting, supported by Garibaldi and one of his comrades, superimposed on the view of a forest, was not originally conceived by Story: it was copied from an issue of The Illustrated Times (June 16, 1860) which, as we shall see, is in turn an excerpt from another major source for the panorama. This detail is a clue to the hybrid and composite nature of the moving panorama whose actual sources, both visual and textual, are found scattered in a variety of media.

To complete Story’s dossier, however, the Brown library acquired a “pulling bill” with the description of what seems to have been Story’s major achievement as a panorama artist and impresario a few years later: a “Grand Moving Panorama,” dated 1869, illustrating an “Ocean and Overland Journey Round the World.” While the circulation of the Garibaldi panorama in Britain, as far as we know, was limited to the shows in Derby and Nottingham, Story’s major contribution to this nineteenth-century art form is this lost “grand panorama,” as its much wider circulation confirms. However, both panoramas well exemplify the global reach of the medium as well as its links to contemporary events, seen from the local perspective of the English town. Indeed, as the rest of this chapter will show, the two panoramas are connected by a common focus: virtual travel.

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