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Extra Extra Large Art:

Conservation Treatment of the Garibaldi Panorama

Large objects are not usually a challenge for the Northeast Document Conservation Center’s conservation lab. The Center’s facility is equipped with specialized sinks and work tables that accommodate even very large objects, such as wall maps, posters, wallpaper, architectural drawings, works of art on paper, and other oversize materials.

NEDCC’s paper conservators recently worked on a project that could be classified as EXTRA EXTRA large. The Garibaldi Panorama is among the longest paintings in the world, measuring 260 feet long and 4½ feet high. From the Anne S.K. Brown Military Collection at the John Hay Library of Brown University, the two-sided work of art on paper depicts the life story of Italian patriot Giuseppe Garibaldi, who played a major role in the unification of Italy.

About the Garibaldi Panorama

The panorama was created circa 1860, and attributed to John James Story, an English landscape and panorama painter. The Garibaldi is one of the few surviving '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.

Attached to rollers, the painting could be slowly unrolled as a narrator read a script that described each scene to the audience, often with musical accompaniment. Markers on the paintings served as guides for the persons cranking the piece.

Upon completion of side one of the panorama, an intermission would have been announced, allowing the staff to turn the panorama around to display the second side. One can imagine how these objects were prone to damage from the manipulation required to present them. Amazingly, the Garibaldi Panorama is still in relatively good condition, although deemed to be too fragile for frequent handling.

About the Conservation Treatment

The Panorama was treated at NEDCC over a period of ten months, and the painting, on a 16-foot table, became a familiar sight in the paper conservation lab. Because the panorama was rolled and unrolled many times throughout its lifetime, there were severe creases at intervals throughout the painting.

The panorama was surface cleaned where possible and tears and breaks were mended with wheat starch paste and lightweight Japanese paper that had been toned with acrylic watercolors. Early repairs which included sewing and fills were not removed because they are considered part of the history of the project. Much of the paint was powdery and many areas of thicker paint were actively flaking, especially the whites and pinks. This paint was consolidated by locally applying an aqueous gelatin solution.

Advancing the panorama to the next section required teamwork to avoid further creasing or other damage.  NEDCC’s final treatment report included detailed instructions for rolling and unrolling the object if necessary, as well as a recommendation to avoid future unrolling whenever possible.

The library also acquired the script that accompanied the panorama, for which NEDCC provided conservation treatment as well.  It was obvious that the manuscript document had been heavily used over the years. The script included notations in red to indicate when the narrator should advance the panorama to the next scene. Its binding was detached and the paper inside was soiled and brittle with many edge tears and losses. Of the 70 leaves of the manuscript, 50 had been mended extensively with pressure sensitive tape.

The manuscript was surface cleaned and the pressure sensitive tape was removed using heat. Then the adhesive residue and staining were reduced on the suction disc or, when possible, in a solvent bath. Mending of the most significant tears was performed and each leaf was non-aqueously alkalized to protect the paper from future deterioration.

Brown University Library’s initiative to conserve the Garibaldi Panorama ensures that the original will be preserved well into the future. A digitized version was created in 2007 and is now accessible online to scholars and researchers, while the conserved original can be safely stored in a climate-controlled environment.

The John Hay Library is home to Brown University’s special collections. You may browse the virtual Garibaldi Panorama and learn more at:

Many thanks to Michelle Venditelli, Preservation Manager, Bindery and Library Collections Annex, Brown University,  and Peter Harrington, Curator, Anne S.K. Brown Military Collection, Brown University Library, for their help with this story.