[Click on the image for a much, much larger view…]
Salzburg is a city of many amazing things. Beautiful churches and crypts, salt, beer halls, a modern art museum perched on the top of a sheer cliff, Mozart, and the Marionette Theatre, to name but seven. But perhaps my favourite individual thing is Johann Michael Sattler’s panorama of 1829 (he began work on it in 1826), lovingly restored and housed next to the main Museum of Salzburg. A panorama is an enormous wide painting that surrounds the viewer in a complete circle – looking at it from a central platform, it provides an extraordinary view of a past version of the city. Above is an electronic copy of the painting for your inspection – click on it to see an expanded view. However big your screen can make it, there’s no substitute for walking around inside it.
Here’s where it was exhibited in a purpose-built facility in the Kirgarten (next to Mirabell Palace) from 1875 – 1937:
And here’s the flash surroundings in its current home:
Inside the enveloping circle of the painting itself, the impact is incredible. From the central gantry, there are telescopes to allow you to inspect bits of the painting in minute detail. As you pick out individual people, sheep in the fields or sheets drying on a washing line, you become involved in the picture, instead of just standing back and admiring it from a critical distance.
It’s not a big stretch to see works like this anticipating the wraparound, immersive IMAX aesthetic of today’s spectacular cinema, except that this allows you to choose your view, to explore instead of passively receive. As Angela Miller has suggested, the panorama redefined what art could achieve in the 19th century:
The advancing frontier of illusionistic representation in the nineteenth century provoked concern over the very definition of art and the panorama‟s contested claims to artistic status, doing so in a manner that anticipates a century of debate over the artistic value of photography, then film, video, and electronic media. As popular entertainment, the panorama offered a liberating access to an apparently encyclopaedic reality; unlike older forms of art, it did not require any particular or specialised knowledge or aesthetic expertise. To the early nineteenth-century academic establishment in both England and France, this proved disconcerting. If the power of high art was to select, idealise, and refine experience, the power of the panorama was to simulate it. (Angela Miller, ‘The Panorama, the Cinema, and the Emergence of the Spectacular.’ Wide Angle 18:2 (April 1996), 34-69.)
But, as well as urging us to rethink the power of representation, the panorama can also make us think again about our experience of the city itself. Below is a picture of the museum’s “Time Telescope”, a screen you can move over any portion of the painting (in a reduced reproduction) to compare the 1829 vision of the city with photographs of how it looks today and in the recent past. It’s an ingenious idea, and it will send you back onto the streets of Salzburg with a fresh perspective that collapses decades of change and flux into a bifocal vision of a place that has managed better than most to stay in touch with its history.