Robert Barker was an Irish artist, born in 1739. He worked in Edinburgh in the late 18th century and invented the 'panorama' concept - a 360 degree view designed to be placed round the inside of a cylinder and viewed from the centre. The word was taken from the Greek 'pan', 'all', and 'horama', a view (from 'horan', to see).
Barker was granted letters patent in June 1787 by George III to display his panoramas. Although these were displayed in London, his first panorama was a view of Edinburgh displayed in Edinburgh in 1788.
The story goes that he was out walking on Calton Hill with the whole vista of the City of Edinburgh laid out before him, and he seized upon capturing the scene in the round. In 1787 he opened an exhibition in Edinburgh which was to have a major impact on the 19th and 20th century entertainment industries. It featured a panoramic view of the city painted around the inner wall of a rotunda which, when viewed from the centre of the room, gave the spectator the illusion of reality. Viewers were admitted via a spiral staircase to a central gallery. Special note was made that the viewer should not see the top or bottom of the painting to improve the illusion "of being on the very spot". Barker took his invention to London where it was an immediate success. Housed in specially built circular buildings, Panoramas subsequently became a very popular form of visual entertainment, in some ways heralding the cinema. Unfortunately none of Barker's large-scale Panoramas survive.
This type of illustration caught the public imagination and panorama viewing establishments soon opened in London, Paris and New York, and with the panoramas growing in size all the time. In the US they were often called 'cycloramas', a term which was first recorded from the 1840s.
In London, Barker panoramas were exhibited at an establishment in Castle Street, off Leicester Square. In 1791, a view of London from the roof of the Albion Mills was displayed. Later on, from 1793, Barker panoramas moved to the first purpose-built panorama building in the world, in Leicester Square, London.