Saturday, 28 April 2012

Figures in a Landscape

In the early years of the 19th century a fashionable form of popular entertainment was the peristrephic ‘Moving Panorama’. The Moving Panorama was a large painted landscape sheet wound onto spools, which would be cranked across a slightly convex surface, framed by a theatre style proscenium, whilst a speaker provided a narrative description of the mural. Starting at about 100 feet, some panoramas extended to over 1000 feet in length, and depicted all manner of subjects, from cityscapes and ocean voyages, to battles, arctic explorations or even an interpretation of Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress. Marshall Brothers of Edinburgh introduced moving Panoramas to the UK; the travelling shows eventually became theatrical productions, incorporating music, live performers, and visual and audio sound effects. They continued to remain popular  - in 1912, Poole Brothers produced the Loss of the Titanic in eight tableaux – until cinema eventually superseded the panorama in the 1920s. Molly Bloom, in James Joyce’s Ulysses (1922) recalls, “I saw him and he not long married flirting with a young girl at Pooles Myriorama and turned my back on him.”

Smaller versions, at about twelve inches tall, were made as children’s toys; one of the earliest was sold as the Panoramacopia or Endless Landscape Scenery of the Isle of Wight, from 1820, which gave a continuous topographical representation of cottages, grain fields, carriages, people, soldiers, fishermen and the beach from the island, which was being promoted at the time as a new tourist resort. A drawing teacher, T T Dales, made a variant of the panorama on eighteen interchangeable cards at about the same time, which he also called a Panoramacopia.

In 1824, John Clarke of London designed a set of sixteen cards, which were manufactured by Samuel Leigh and sold for 15 shillings (75p) per set. Clarke called his design, ‘The Myriorama’ selling it with the description that it “ … is a moveable Picture, capable of forming an almost endless variety of Picturesque Scenery". The cards were fully interchangeable, giving an almost limitless assortment of possible combinations.

4 cards from Clarke's original Myriorama

There are modern interpretations available today from ‘vintage’ toyshops – this first one is a twenty-four-card set based closely on an 1830s original from Leipzig.

4 cards from this set in one variation ...

... the same 4 cards in a different order.

This next set was made in Germany in 1977 by F-J Holler. The box claims that there are a possible 1,686,553,615,927,922,354,187,744 variations of the cards, which seems a phenomenally large number but, of course, you do not have to use all 24 cards at the same time. It also claims that if the (then) worldwide population of 5 billion people laid out a combination once a second, it would take them 10,696,000 years to complete the possible variations.

Seven cards in combination.

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