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In theatrical terminology the terms "cosmorama", "diorama", "panorama", and so on, all refer to theatrical devices or short presentations making use of optical illusion and moving scenes to enhance "reality". The presentations could on occasion include narration by a presenter, music, songs and even dances. They were particularly popular in 19th century theatre and entertainment, and later used widely in theme parks and museums in the 20th century.

Though the differences between the actual techniques are not always that clear and the terms are often used loosely and/or interchangeably in sources, each of the forms does have distinctive features.

Other "-rama" names that occur - besides the three mentioned above - include the "Pleorama" (of Carl Wilhelm Gropius, ), the "Scenorama" (Albert Smith) - but they all basically seem to refer to the same kind of activity.


A cosmorama is usually a reference to an exhibition of perspective pictures of different places in the world, usually world landmarks and also the name given to an entertainment form in 19th century London - named after the physical venue at 207-209 Regent Street, London, where one could view scenes of distant lands and exotic subjects through optical devices that magnified the pictures. A distinction is sometimes made between a


The word diorama refers either to a 19th-century mobile theatre device, or, in modern usage, a three-dimensional full-size or miniature model, sometimes enclosed in a glass showcase for a museum.

The Diorama was a popular entertainment that originated in Paris in 1822, developed and copyrighted by Charles-Marie Bouton (1781– 1853) and Louis Jacques Mandé Daguerre (1787–1851) as an alternative to the similarly popular "Panorama" or panoramic painting used by producers in the 19th century.

Properly done, the Diorama was a relatively complex presentation, viewed by an audience in a highly specialized theatre fitted up with proper equipment. For example Wikipedia[1] gives the following description: "As many as 350 patrons would file in to view a landscape painting that would change its appearance both subtly and dramatically. Most would stand, though limited seating was provided. The show lasted 10 to 15 minutes, after which time the entire audience (on a massive turntable) would rotate to view a second painting. Later models of the Diorama theater even held a third painting."

In South Africa presentations called "dioramas" were more often presented in conventional venues, temporarily fitted up for such presentations. However, one suspects that not all of the presentations advertised as dioramas, were of the licensed Bouton and Daguerre theatrical device, but may in fact have been so-called cosmoramas, panoramas or simply panoramic paintings.


For information on the South African play of this name by Pieter-Dirk Uys, click here on Panorama

In the mid-19th century, panoramic paintings and models became a very popular way to represent landscapes, topographic views and historical events. Audiences of Europe in this period were thrilled by the aspect of illusion, immersed in a winding 360 degree panorama and given the impression of standing in a new environment.

A distinction is sometimes made between a simple panorama and a moving panorama, of which Albert Smith seems to have been a leading innovator in England. Once again, they would on occasion be part of an evening's entertainment and include narration by a presenter, music and songs, dances, etc.

Cosmoramas, dioramas, panoramas, etc, in South Africa

According to F.C.L. Bosman (1980, pp.186-7; p.319, footnote 89), presentations billed as panoramas, cosmoramas and dioramas appeared and became popular in South Africa in 1863, and among those mentioned in sources have been:

Albert Smith's Panorama of China (1863); Henry Harper's Diorama of Holland and the Rhine (); The Cosmorama (1867-8) and The Excursionist (1867) both created and presented by scene-painter R.S. Cooper; A Tour Around the World (1874-5),





"Smith, Albert (d.1860)" in Peter E. Palmquist and Thomas R. Kailbourn. 2000. Pioneer Photographers of the Far West: A Biographical Dictionary, 1840-1865. Stanford University Press: p.504[2]

F.C.L. Bosman. 1980. Drama en Toneel in Suid-Afrika, Deel II, 1856-1912. Pretoria: J.L. van Schaik: pp.186-9

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