Panorama as medium

As a form of art, the panorama painting is actually a part of a long tradition which can be seen throughout all epochs of art history. The most important element of this art form is illusion. There are many ways to create illusion. The design and development of illusive image paintings and spaces will be demonstrated here, as well as the various techniques or technologies that were applied. Since the time of the first frescos and mural paintings, leading up to the large-scale panorama, the human being’s need for visual sensations has remained unchanged. Creating illusion evolved into an enormous industry, the effects of which are still highly evident today. In taking a closer look, we find that the same means used to create the panorama paintings in their day are used today for virtual art, the only difference being the use of modern technology.

That what Edouard Castres painted in 1881 on the canvas of the Bourbaki Panorama – which has been completed by the faux terrain and the sounds setting in order to make the boarder between the circular painting and the surrounding room disappear – can be considered as an original form of virtual reality.


1881 Painted from Edouard Castres in Geneva
1889 Transfer to the new rotunda in Lucerne
1996-2003 Complete restoration of painting and building
2008 Renovation of the foreground (faux terrain)
Technique Oil on canvas 
Fabric Canvas / Jute, 17 fabric panels
Dimensions 10 x 112 m (originally 14 x 112 m)

You will find further fascinating facts, background information, and enjoyable articles about the Bourbaki Panorama on the Bourbaki blog

Edouard Castres

The artist who crated the Bourbaki Panorama, Geneva painter Edouard Castres, studied with Barthélemy Menn at the fine arts in Geneva before enrolling in the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris. He took part in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870/71 as a Red Cross volunteer, accompanying General Bourbaki’s Eastern Army throughout the last phase of the war. 

Numerous drawings, sketches in oil and paintings of the period document the hard fate of the Bourbaki Army during those bitterly cold February days of the winter of 1871 in the French Jura mountains.

The painters

Castres was commissioned by the entrepreneur Benjamin Henneberg to represent the internment of the Bourbaki Army in Switzerland in a large-scale panorama. He employed a team of painters, inculding the young Ferdinand Hodler, to execute the work over a period of five months in 1881 in Geneva. In 1889 the painting was transferred to Lucerne. 



The Bourbaki Panorama was restored between the years 1996 and 2004. These extensive repair works on the painting and building were necessary in order to secure the preservation of the cultural monument for the next generations. The Association Bourbaki Panorama supports the conservation with memberships and donations.