“Nineteenth-Century Technologies of Vision and the Panoramic Studium: The Case of Jean-Léon Gérôme”
Gülru Çakmak, Assistant Professor of Nineteenth-Century European Art Department of Art, Architecture and Art History University of Massachusetts Amherst
Jean-Léon Gérôme, Death of Caesar (c. 1859)
Oil on canvas, 85.5 cm. x 145.5 cm.
Walters Art Museum, Baltimore
A relatively little understood aspect of nineteenth-century visual culture is the impact of modern technologies of spectacle, such as panorama and diorama, on easel painting. In the first half of the century, pervasive transformation of conditions of spectatorship under the influence of emerging technologies of sequential vision, coupled with a growing sense of an insurmountable distance between the modern subject and the historical past, put unprecedented pressure on the conventions of grand history painting.This paper explores a brief moment in nineteenth-century French art when the panoramic apparatus offered something like an expanded field of fantasized action to the viewers of history painting. At this particular moment, a number of artists recognized and wielded the associative power of the panorama in an effort to invent a new type of history painting, translating mass spectacle to high art, as they hoped to address one of the most urgent questions that haunted ambitious painters in the nineteenth century: how to make history relevant to contemporary viewers?