Saturday, April 2, 2011

Book Review--The Battle of Gettysburg Cyclorama

Boardman, Sue and Kathryn Porch. The Battle of Gettysburg Cyclorama: A History and Guide. Thomas Publications, Gettysburg, PA. 2008. 79 pages, bibliography, color and b/w photos. ISBN 9781577471387, $19.95.

The Battle of Gettysburg Cyclorama: A History and Guide For most visitors to the hallowed ground of Gettysburg the Gettysburg National Military Park Museum and Visitors Center is a must see. The museum will help get you oriented to the battlefield, is where you can view the large museum, is where most tour guides are hired at and more. Included in the price of admission is the legendary Cyclorama! The Gettysburg Cyclorama depicts what for most is the defining moment of the battle, if not the entire Civil War, Pickett's Charge. Taking place on July 3, 1863 after a large Confederate artillery fire troops led by General George Pickett (with others) attacked the center of the Union line only to be repulsed. From there the Confederate army moved back toward Virginia and in many people's mind the battle turned the fortunes toward the Union.

Licensed Battlefield Guide Sue Boardman and Kathryn Porch have written an interesting and much needed guide to go with the Cyclorama. A cyclorama is a panoramic painting viewed in the round from a central platform that allows viewers a 360 degree view. In Europe these are often called panoramas. While originating in Europe the trend reached American soil in the 1870's with landscapes, religious works, and historical events being the main subjects. The technical aspects of a cyclorama are huge with both painting and architectural features of the building needing to work together to achieve the maximum viewing pleasure. In addition to the painting a diorama must be built between the viewing platform and the painting in order to extend the paintings features and create the full illusion desired. When these aspects work together the result is fantastic.

Paul Philippoteaux in
front of Pickett's Charge
 With the increasing popularity of the medium in the United States businessman Charles Willoughby commissioned French artist Paul Philippoteaux to create a battle scene that would be displayed in Chicago. Once Pickett's Charge was decided upon work was begun and over a year later in October 1883 the painting was unveiled. After three years in Chicago the painting travelled to Detroit. Due to it's popularity, and financial success, a second version was commissioned and opened in Boston in 1884 before being "traded" with Philadelphia for a Custer's Last Fight painting. Two other versions of Pickett's Charge were created by Philippoteaux both opening in 1886. In the early 1900's the Boston version of the painting was acquired by Albert Hahne and the Picture Association of Gettysburg allowing the painting to be shown in the town that inspired it's subject. Due to neglect, including having been left in a crate in a field, the painting was deteriorating and several attempts at restoration were made. In 1959 construction began on what is now known as the "old visitor's center". This building ultimately proved unsuitable for the painting due to issues such as the building not being tall enough, lack of humidity control, no proper viewing platform, and roof leaks. Thanks to a new and proper building, modern restoration techniques, and appreciative visitors the painting can now be seen in all it's glory.

Boardman and Porch have done a fine job in outlining the history of this marvelous painting. The book is short and broken into logical chapters. Included is a quite helpful "key to the scene" section where the authors briefly label sections of the painting in order to help viewers follow the action. Included in this section are vintage and current photos showing what the actual areas look like. While this book is not cheap ($20 for less than 100 pages) it is a worthwhile purchase. The writing is good and the photos are wonderful. Recommended if you have an interest in the history of Gettysburg.

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