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Document of the month

June 2015: Richardson’s Portable Panorama of the Battle of Waterloo, 1815

User AvatarPosted by Josanne Peet at 08/06/2015 09:10:14
Richardson's  Portable Panorama of the Battle of Waterloo, 1815
Reference: DD/NM/8/6/5

The Battle of Waterloo was fought on Sunday, 18 June 1815, 200 years ago this month, at a site in present-day Belgium, then part of the Netherlands. A French army under Napoleon was defeated by the forces of the Seventh Coalition, comprising an Anglo-Allied army led by the Duke of Wellington, combined with a Prussian army under Gebhard von Blücher. Waterloo was the decisive engagement of the Waterloo Campaign and Napoleon's last. According to Wellington, the battle was "the nearest-run thing you ever saw in your life" and it ended Napoleon's rule as Emperor of the French.

This printed depiction of the battle was published by Richardsons as a ‘Portable Panorama’ and was part of a new countrywide obsession for visual media of all types that started around the turn of the nineteenth century.  The public flocked to see Magic Lantern and full-sized panorama shows depicting artistic interpretations of historical and recent events. These latter were typically part of travelling exhibitions that toured rural areas and invited their visitors to enter a rotunda of canvas images or models, some of which could be moved in re-creation of the occasion they were representing. The victory at Waterloo was a prime subject for such a panorama with one version advertising an experience so vivid that ‘the spectator may fancy himself engaged in the scenes before him’. The popularity of these attractions cannot be underestimated. In 1822, an audience of 22,000 saw ‘The Battle of Waterloo’ during its visit to Bath. Some of those undoubtedly,  wishing to preserve the experience, would have gone on to be purchasers of  Richardson’s ‘Portable Panorama’ and indeed, its billing as being ‘Planned, Erected and Painted Expressly for the Purpose of Exhibition’ seems to point at it being a by-product of an earlier  display or a souvenir from one. 

Whatever its origins, the publication gives a fascinating insight into a rapidly-industrialising society that, for the first time, was beginning to turn its attention to the entertainment of its citizens.

For further documents relating to wars held at Nottinghamshire Archives see our online catalogue.

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