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A 360-degree view of battleground is restored

The Battle of Gettysburg, has, well, been through the wars. That's about to change.

Created by French painter Paul Philippoteaux and about 20 assistants in 1883 and 1884, this artwork is called a cyclorama — a tall painting in the round that surrounds its viewers.

This one depicts the hour-long bloody battle known as Pickett's Charge, which ended the three-day confrontation in and near Gettysburg. Completed more than 20 years after that battle, the painting measured 377 feet around and 42 feet high.

"This was a Victorian-era optical illusion,'' designed to bow out slightly in the middle to enhance the feeling of reality, explains Dru Anne Neil of the Gettysburg Foundation. "Before IMAX, people had cycloramas.''

The artwork originally was displayed in Boston. Then it was taken apart into 14 sections and shipped about the country and reassembled for other displays.

But over the years, the cyclorama lost its power to entertain. It was cut into 26 pieces, some of them used as backdrops in department store displays.

Finally, all the pieces were shipped to Gettysburg, where they were stored in a building lacking temperature and humidity controls.

In the late 1960s, the painting was reassembled and hung in a purpose-built structure. Still missing were parts of the painting's sky, as well as whole panels. This version measured just 356 feet by 26 feet — 21 feet narrower, 16 feet shorter than the original.

In 2003, a $15-million restoration effort began. About 20 conservators have re-created the skyline and removed the original painting from its backing canvas — glue was scraped off with scalpels — and replaced it.

Some conservators have delicately puttied in holes and missing paint, and colleagues have repainted these patches.

Restored to its original size, and cleaned for the first time in about 40 years, the painting now hangs to provide the bowed canvas' slight optical illusion.

Thus rejuvenated, The Battle of Gettysburg is to open to the public in late September.

Robert N. Jenkins

.If you go

Seeing history

The cyclorama is scheduled to reopen Sept. 26. Then, combined admission to the museum's feature film and this vast painting will be $12 for 13 and older, $10 for children 6-12, and free for those 5 and younger.

A 360-degree view of battleground is restored 06/27/08 [Last modified: Monday, June 30, 2008 12:36pm]
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