Following my earlier post on the latest "Pilgrim’s Progress" movie, it is worth recalling that back before there were animated movies, visual art could still depict discrete literary scenes, as this Pilgrim’s Progress tribute in the Long Beach public library shows, dating from 1937 by Suzanne Miller (one of seven scenes from literature chosen to illumine the library).
And the book "The Pilgrim's Progress" had been illustrated in many different ways from opening the famous frontispiece of Bunyan asleep dreaming to early edition woodcut illustrations (as displayed in the present Oxford World’s Classics edition of the text).
But static art could not, of course, narrate the whole story dynamically…
…or so you would believe until you discovered mid 19th century moving panoramas. One of the most popular of these moving panoramas, principally because it was the showcase of stellar American landscape artists, is of Pilgrim’s Progress. The first version, presently unlocated, went on display in New York in 1850, grossing $100,000 in its first six months, at 50 cents per viewer, seen up upward of a third of the city’s population. It subsequently was to tour the Atlantic coast cities, and would do so until its return to New York in 1887. A second version of 1851, with alterations from the first, now also became a money-spinning traveling exhibit, went on tour around the interior of the US.
What is this moving panorama? An 8ft high by a staggering 800ft long painted canvas depicting both Parts 1 and 2 of John Bunyan’s classic would be wound around a pole and then dragged, unwinding, across a staged display space, by a receiving rotating pole device, thus creating the sensation of movement. What is further remarkable about the second version of the Moving Panorama is that, having ceased exhibition and fallen into private hands it was donated to a museum in 1896, exhibited once, and then utterly forgotten until 1996 – where it lay unnoticed in the basement storage space of the Saco Museum in Maine.
Last exhibited in 2012, you can still experience something of the Panorama’s effect by watching the Museum’s archive video.
Another charming piece of contact with this historic testimony to America’s reception of "The Pilgrim's Progress" comes in book form. Beautifully produced, with excellent reproductions of the art, accompanied by essays with details of the artistic provenance of the work, as well as a history of the American phenomena of moving panoramas, and the specific journey of this Pilgrim’s Progress "Bunyan tableaux," this book makes an excellent coffee table exhibit, as well as sound evidence of the height of Bunyan’s tale’s fame in North America.
In further blog posts, I’ll showcase ways in which The Pilgrim's Progress can illustrate classroom teaching of theology today, and maybe I’ll offer some more glimpses into the variety of forms in which reception of the work has been expressed.
1. Thomas Hardiman, Jr., "The Panorama’s Progress. A History of Kyle and Dallas’ Moving Panorama of Pilgrim’s Progress’ in The Painters’ Panorama" (full bibliographical details in note below)
2. Jessica Skwire Routhier, Kevin J. Avery, and Thomas Hardiman Jr., The painters’ panorama: narrative, art, and faith in the Moving Panorama of Pilgrim’s Progress, University Press of New England, 2015.