Cyclorama: The Battle of Gettysburg

The Battle of Gettysburg Cyclorama

The Gettysburg cyclorama is an exhibit absolutely not to be missed.  Inside the visitor center at the Gettysburg National Military Park, this historical tribute to Pickett’s Charge – the final Confederate assault on July 3, 1863 – is unforgettable.  It’s not just for kids, but I guarantee you if you take the kids it will be their favorite part of the whole trip.

A cyclorama is the inverse of theatre in the round, where the audience sits on all sides of the event. Here, the audience observes from inside the 360°  painting.  Colorful lighting, sound effects and a narrated script move the scene and the observers around the circular space as part of the historic events.

The original Battle of Gettysburg cyclorama was longer than a football field and as tall as a four-story building.   Stunning audiences with its spectacular realism since its first viewing in Chicago in 1883, the three-dimensional foreground, scattered remnants of war, stone walls, trees and broken fences create an experience that remains awe-inspiring to this day.

Paul Dominique Philippoteaux was a master builder of giant cycloramas.   The artist spent several weeks on the battlefield, observing details of the terrain and making hundreds of sketches. He hired William Tipton to photograph a series of images creating a 360°  panorama, from which Philippoteaux painted four amazing Gettysburg cycloramas.

The sheer size of the canvas challenged conservators trying to save the painting. Squeezing into hot, dusty exhibition spaces required The Battle of Gettysburg canvas to be sliced into panels.  By the late 1990s, parts of the painting were nearly beyond repair.  Conserving the colossus took six years, and millions of dollars of international effort.

To view the captions, mouse over photos.

Photos by Diane Mawr, copyright 2013. May not be used without permission of photographer.

A spectacular ancestor of today’s television and cinema, cycloramas made the world available to everyone.  
While Americans call the cylindrical paintings cycloramas, they were originally called (and still are in Europe and other parts of the world) panoramas, a word created to describe the extra-ordinary visual spectacle of the huge painting, and the surrounding building. Cycloramas create the illusion that an observer is an integral part of the depicted events, enhance by lights, sound and narration. The  360° style of painting – first exhibited in the late 1700’s depicting a view of Edinburgh – is finding a new popularity.  Nearly 60 new paintings have surfaced world-wide in the last few decades, with new works opening every year.

For a more in-depth look at the Gettysburg cyclorama, and the Gettysburg National Military Park, visit the National Parks Service.

For more information on cyclorama (panorama) in general, visit The International Panorama Council.


3 thoughts on “Cyclorama: The Battle of Gettysburg

  1. Pingback: Visiting Gettysburg | Passing Thru

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