The Project

Measuring 4.75 feet tall and 260 feet wide, painted on paper on each side, the Garibaldi panorama is an extraordinary multimedia hybrid: part graphic novel, part illustrated history, part forerunner of cinema, it is a sort of archeological specimen in which, embedded in a now-vanished form of popular culture, we find the traces of a dawning information society, an example of how news and entertainment were already mixed together in the 19th century, as they are in today's 'infotainment' society. Through its visual narrative, the panorama transports us back 150 years, to the summer and fall of 1860, when British Garibaldimania was at its height and a popular hero was 'imagined' and 'invented' in the media of his times.

The panorama's dimensions and its fragility make it impossible for scholars to study and explore it with ease and without fear of damage. In 2007, with financial support from the Department of Italian Studies and Vincent J. Buonanno (Brown '66), the library digitized the panorama, and we are pleased to be able to offer this amazing treasure to the world, part of a site that, we hope, will contribute to recounting a largely untold story about this popular medium and Garibaldi's popularity in the Europe and the United States of his times.

Over the past five years, the project has significantly evolved, thank to the generous support of the Brown University librarian (Harriette Hemmasi), the Brown vice-President for Research and a fellowship and grant awarded to the project coordinator, Prof. Massimo Riva, by the American Council for Learned Societies. Users can now view the panorama as a scrolling image and zoom in and out on specific scenes; they are able to listen to a voiceover narration, in both English and Italian, adapted from the manuscript acquired with the panorama, and they can read the manuscript and its full transcription, side by side. Accompanying the animation is a collection of digital documents from the Brown library and the Harvard Risorgimento collections: portraits, pamphlets, articles and prints from illustrated newspapers that feature either Garibaldi or significant moments in the movement for Italian Unification. Additionally, relevant materials from the Anne S.K. Brown Military Collection have been gathered for study and digitization.

An international team of scholars from a variety of fields, ranging from history and art history to literary and media studies, is at work on augmenting this digital archive. In years to come, these scholars will contribute essays about the history of the Risorgimento and about the panorama as an artifact; its historical context; the history of its exhibitions; as well as general information about panoramas and dioramas as 'optical devices' and popular representational media in 19th-century Europe. Furthermore, the panorama has been the object of another interdisciplinary experiment with the Microsoft Surface: high definition images of the panorama and a select number of the associated digital documents were incorporated into LADS, a museum display system developed under the supervision of Brown computer scientist Andries van Dam. LADS (now further developed into TAG, Touch Art Gallery) utilizes Microsoft Deep Zoom technology on a Windows 7 (now 8) platform to create a digital exhibition of large-scale artworks such as the Garibaldi panorama. The result of this work was the subject of several exhibitions in the U.K. and Italy in 2010-12, supported by Microsoft Research and the Brown library as well as various local institutions, namely: an installation at the British Library, as part of the exhibit "Growing Knowledge," October 2010-May 2011; an installation in the Sala del Risorgimento of the Palazzo Pubblico in Siena, October 2011-January 2012; and a third installation entitled "Storia da toccare," [History to touch], in the atrium of the Bologna Salaborsa (the city's public library and community center) during the month of November, 2011.

About the Panorama

The Garibaldi panorama was created in 1860, and acquired by the Brown University Library in 2005. Its author is most likely John James Story, a minor landscape and panorama painter and impresario native to Nottingham, in the U.K. The Garibaldi panorama belongs to the typology of 'moving' panoramas. While the majority of panoramas were large, fixed paintings viewed from a central platform, smaller 'moving' panoramas were created to meet a need for smaller audiences. Whereas the large stationary pieces were completely exposed from beginning to end, the 'moving' panoramas displayed one scene at a time. Attached to rollers, the paintings could be unrolled slowly as a narrator described each vignette to the audience, often with musical accompaniment [see Sheet Music]. The manuscript acquired by the library with the panorama contains the script used by the narrator . Markers on the paintings would serve as guides for the persons cranking the piece (one can notice such red markers on the bottom edge of the panorama). An interval would have been announced upon reaching the end of side one, in order for the staff to turn the panorama around for displaying the second side.

The moving panorama depicting the life and deeds of Garibaldi is an example of the use of a popular subject for commercial entertainment. When the panorama was first exhibited (in Derby, on December 26-27, 1860, and Nottingham, on February 19 and 20, 1861‚ see the ads for these performances), Giuseppe Garibaldi was the man of the moment. His portrait--as well as his achievements during his famous expedition to Sicily, aimed at unifying the North and the South of Italy--graced the pages of the illustrated newspapers, and the educated classes would have been very familiar with his exploits [see: Garibaldi and the Illustrated Press]. The news, as well as popular biographical accounts of Garibaldi's accomplishments, provided Story with abundant textual and visual sources [these sources can now be explored in the section Research the Panorama]. A linear painting portraying these events in action-packed vivid color, in 49 scenes or sections, would have been hugely popular. Wars were particularly appealing subjects for panorama painters, and the contemporary Risorgimento events in Italy offered more than their fair share of combat, action, and drama. It would have guaranteed a ready audience in England eager to fork over a shilling or two to spend an hour being enthralled by the escapades of the Italian patriot, in words and pictures.

While its commercial goals seem undeniable, scholars are also exploring interesting hypotheses on the Panorama's role as propaganda (Garibaldi enjoyed a triumphal welcome in London in 1864). Although the Brown panorama is the only surviving exemplar of its kind, we know of several other Garibaldi panoramas circulating in England in that period (see the article by Marcella Sutcliffe, - Other Garibaldi panoramas and dioramas: Gompertz and Hamilton).

The manuscript accompanying the panorama ends with scene 49 which depicts the triumphal entry of Garibaldi and the King of Sardinia, Victor Emmanuel, into Naples, after the victorious battle of Volturno against the Bourbons (on March 18, 1861, Victor Emmanuel was crowned the first King of Italy). However, the panorama as we inherited it includes six additional scenes, four of which are related to the battle of Aspromonte (August 2, 1862), in which Garibaldi was famously wounded in the leg. These scenes provide the evidence that the artist, John James Story, updated his piece to reflect the latest news.

How did the panorama arrive in America? In 1862, Anthony Burford, a member of the Cotswold family, who had emigrated to the United States in 1854, returned to Great Britain on a visit. He found this panorama in Nottingham and was able to purchase it from the artist (see the announcement by Story advertising the panorama for sale, published in The Era). After purchasing it, Mr. Burford brought the panorama back to the United States and attempted to show it, with little success. It was put into storage by his daughter-in-law Clarissa, wife of Robert Burford, and eventually inherited by Grace Burford, an active member of the International Panorama Diorama Society. She, in turn, gave it to her nephew, Dr. James Smith, in about 1980. In October 2005, Dr. Smith donated the panorama to the Brown University Library, where it resides as part of the Anne S.K. Brown Military Collection.

In 2005, Dr. Smith produced a video documentary on the Garibaldi Panorama. While some of the attributions made in the video are potentially incorrect, the video does provide an engrossing overview of the panorama. This documentary runs just under 50 minutes in length.

Dr. Smith published this brochure to accompany the panorama and video documentary.

Image of the Brochure book

View the Brochure

Digitization Overview

The sheer dimensions of the Garibaldi panorama—4.75' tall and 260' wide on each side—presented unique digitization challenges. Boston Photo Imaging, a professional digital imaging company, was contracted to capture digital images of the panorama as it was unrolled across a custom-built wooden platform. Using a vertically mounted Better Light 4" x 5" digital scan back, capturing both sides of the panorama took three days and resulted in 91 digital image files, each file ~244 MB and representing ~6.5' of horizontal width (including on average .5-1' of overlap, in order to facilitate subsequent image merging). The scan back captured 300 dpi RGB TIF files; given the height of the device this resulted in an effective real-world resolution of ~137 dpi at the actual size of the panorama.

Because scenes within the panorama’s visual narrative do not correspond to the uniform width used in the capture process, sets of capture files were digitally merged together five at a time by the Brown Library's Center for Digital Initiatives staff, at full capture resolution within Photoshop CS3/v10, and then individual scenes were isolated and saved from these roughly 30-feet merged sections. A continuous image of each side of the panorama was produced by subsequently merging sequences of these five-section composites at a reduced resolution. As part of this process the plastic-over-board background initially visible along the top and bottom edges was digitally removed, and each merged group of five was slightly rotated in order to compensate for some inevitable alignment drift produced during the unrolling process. Tonal levels and saturation values were slightly adjusted, and files were moderately sharpened for full-resolution and reduced-resolution delivery sizes.

Preservation Concerns During the Capture Process

As a result of the panorama’s past use, there are many tears in the paper, particularly at the top and bottom edges (as viewed) and at the leading edge of the giant scroll. There is evidence of many past repairs, from delicate Japanese paper repairs to heavier paper repairs painted to match the original watercolors, as well as pressure sensitive document repair tape and a great deal of hand-stitching along the leading edge. The top and bottom edges were once lined with canvas, but it is now missing on the bottom and only partially attached along the top edge.

The images consist of watercolors on paper — particularly fragile and susceptible to oils from human skin, not to mention damage from rough handling and exposure to light. The pigment layers are similar to gouache, opaque and thick, sitting on the surface of the paper and vulnerable to smudging as a result of abrasion, or to flaking as the paper substrate is flexed.

Preservation Department staff members reviewed the digital capture equipment configuration and discussed the process with the technicians, and determined that the best way to ensure safe handling of the panorama was to personally unroll and re-roll it as images were captured. The large dimensions and fragile nature of the nearly 150-year-old object required skilled, gentle, and experienced hands.

The panorama was unrolled across a wooden platform specifically constructed for this project; the platform was covered in plastic sheeting to provide a clean, smooth surface across which the panorama could glide. The plastic also minimized the likelihood of frayed edges and small tears snagging on the wood. Cotton gloves were required for anyone handling the panorama directly, reducing the amount of dirt and oil transferred to the paper.

Long-term Preservation Needs

The panorama came to Brown wrapped in a wool blanket and tied with ropes. The drums around which it is rolled are made of wood and board wrapped in heavy paper — sources of acid and other volatile organic compounds that lead to the deterioration of paper and pigments. To improve the panorama’s storage conditions, the paper was removed from the drums and replaced with thicker acid-free, lignin-free paper adhered with polyvinyl acetate adhesive and acid-free double-sided tape. The panorama was rolled as carefully as possible to minimize cockling or folds and wrapped with a layer of acid-free tissue and then with sheets of the same heavy paper now lining the drum to minimize any exposure to light. These sheets were secured with several paper belts.

The paper itself is of good quality and is in good shape throughout most of the panorama, except in specific areas. These include a section along one edge with an unidentified stain that is very brittle and flaking apart, and both ends of the scroll, which are especially worn and have some large tears. These would need to be repaired if the panorama were to be handled or displayed on a more regular basis. Our current working assumption is that the availability of a digital surrogate will decrease the demand for in-person viewing to the point where the safe storage of the panorama in our climate-controlled Library Collections Annex is adequate protection and will preserve this object well into the future.

Panorama Advertisements

The Moving Diorama at The Exchange Hall

-Last (Monday) evening M. Bianco's magnificent dioramic views of the life of Garibaldi were exhibited to a large and admiring audience at the Exchange Hall. The exhibition, which is certainly of a first-class character, commences from the youth of the Italian Liberator, and continues stage after stage up to the battle of Volturno. It consists in two large sections of views taken from drawings made at the respective scenes of action. It is the work of skilful and eminent artists, and depicts with great fidelity the many startling and marvellous circumstances connected with the glorious career of the "Hermit of Caprera." The most striking of the numerous scenes presented to the notice of the assembled spectators were the last of each section, namely, "The death of the devoted Annita, the beloved partner of Garibaldi;" and "The triumphal entry of Victor Emmanuel and Garibaldi into Naples." Messrs. Richardson and Woolley conducted the musical part of the entertainment in an admirable manner. We see by advertisement in another column that the diorama will continue to be exhibited in Nottingham this day and to-morrow, and we sincerely trust that the deserving proprietor of such an interesting and highly successful exhibition will reap meet rewards for the skill and industry displayed in the highly-finished and most interesting views which he presents to the public.


Project Coordinator

Prof. Massimo Riva Italian Studies, Brown University, project coordinator

International Advisory Board

Prof. Angela De Benedictis University of Bologna, Italy
Prof. John Davis University of Connecticut, Storrs
Prof. David I. Kertzer Anthropology and Italian Studies, Brown University
Prof. Dietrich Neumann Professor of History of Art and Architecture, Brown University
Prof. Gilles Pécout Université Sorbonne and École Normale Supérieure, Paris, France
Prof. Lucy Riall University of London, UK

Contributing Scholars

Dr. Benedetta Gennaro Goethe University, Frankfurt, Germany
Dr. Maria Pia Casalena University of Bologna, Italy
Dr. Gian Luca Fruci University of Pisa, Italy
Mr. Peter Harrington University Library, Brown University
Prof. Dian Kriz History of Art and Architecture, Brown University
Dr. Giovanna Lasi University of Bologna, Italy
Dr. Clizia Magoni University of Bologna, Italy
Dr. Giacomo Manzoli University of Bologna, Italy
Erica Moretti Mt. Holyoke College
Dr. Alessio Petrizzo University of Pisa, Italy
Dr. Simon Sarlin École Française, Rome
Dr. Marcella Sutcliffe University of Newcastle, UK


John Melson WWP, Brown University
Elli Mylonas CDS, Brown University


Nicole Gercke Italian Studies, Brown University
Stephen Marth Italian Studies, Brown University
Michela Ronzani Italian Studies, Brown University
Giovanna Roz Italian Studies, Brown University
Anna Santucci Italian Studies, Brown University
Xavier Sawada Brown University '13
Arlando Battle Brown University '12
Joel Kang Brown University '13