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Circular Visions: Viewing the World From Above in the Late Eighteenth Century

Journal article
Authors Björn Billing
Published in Journal of Historical Geography
Volume 63
Pages 61-72
ISSN 0305-7488
Publication year 2019
Published at Department of Literature, History of Ideas, and Religion
Pages 61-72
Language en
Keywords Horace-Benedict de Saussure, Thomas Baldwin, Mountaineering, Ballooning, Landscape representation, Anamorphosis, Panorama, Horizon
Subject categories Cultural Studies, Aesthetics, History of science, History of Ideas


In the late eighteenth century, mountains were systematically explored and manned balloon flights were executed for the first time in history. These vertical journeys made it possible to view landscapes and geographical areas from above. Mountaineers as well as balloonists reported that their high altitude experiences were stupendous and exhilarating. They also expressed similar problems in communicating panoramic views, which generated experiments in the visual representation of landscapes. This article analyses and compares two such visualisations: one by Swiss natural philosopher Horace-Benedict de Saussure (1740-1799), and one by British balloonist Thomas Baldwin (1742-1804). Both images use the technique of anamorphosis with a circular form. With this design, Saussure and Baldwin aimed at accurately depicting a 360-degree view as well as phenomenologically simulating a literally elevated position. The article interprets the images by close reading of the verbal descriptions by Saussure and Baldwin, and also by discussing their circular visions in the contexts of visual culture, mountaineering and ballooning in the late eighteenth century. These representations of views from above are investigated as significant documents in the cultural history of the horizon. (C) 2018 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

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Utskriftsdatum: 2019-12-15