The Napoleonic era has always fascinated me for its visuals — the massive armies, the colorful costumes, and the sweeping scope of some of the battles. These terrible conflicts produced some of the finest military art in European history and I discovered a remarkable example of it when I visited Waterloo, Belgium, last week.
Preserved on the battlefield is a rare example of a panorama. A popular form of entertainment in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, these large paintings are now rare. They were usually of epic scenes such as battles or Biblical stories or famous cities, and would be placed on the inside of round buildings to provide a 360 degree viewing experience. Others were set up on stage and unrolled like a scroll in front of the audience, each part relating a sequence of the story.
The Waterloo panorama is set in a round building and is 110 meters long and 14 meters high. It was painted by Louis Dumoulin and his assistants in 1912, just as those newfangled moving pictures were beginning to make panoramas obsolete.