The Art of the Cyclorama

I went to Gettysburg a couple months ago for my grandfather’s 90th birthday celebration.  My family is full of history buffs so the plans included lots of battlefield touring and deep diving into the minutiae of the civil war battle.  One of the cooler things we got to do was a private tour of the Gettysburg Cyclorama.  It was recently restored and returned to it’s early brilliance.

Cycloramas were big money entertainment. Paul Philippoteaux was the artist hired to complete the project in 1878.  The goal of a cyclorama is to provide the viewer the illusion of 360 degree view of the battle during the climax of Pickett’s Charge on the third day of the battle.  Some of the technical elements are really cool, and the effect is pure sensory over load.  Even in our jaded age of IMAX 3D there’s still something to the visual trickery and impact of the cyclorama.
Viewers stand in the middle of this giant circular room and look out on the “battlefield” all around.
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You can’t see the top or bottom of the painting and there is a display with fake bushes and cannons and other props that blend right into the bottom edge of the painting.  The painting also bulges inwards in the middle to strengthen the illusion of real perspective.

I got a chance to climb behind it and was really surprised to learn that it is hung like a giant shower curtain with weights evenly spaced to create the right amount of tension.
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It was definitely one of the highlights of my weekend.  That and hanging out with my Grandfather.  90 years old!  Pretty incredible…