From Vue d’Optique to Polyorama Panoptique: Objectifying Images, Embodying Vision [EN]

Sonsoles Hernández-Barbosa

 

Vues d’optique (perspective views in English) were large-format etched sheet prints which, in the 18th
century, became a popular medium to represent urban views. Owing to their high price, only the wealthier
classes could afford these prints and the optic devices required to visualise them in full (Terpak, 1994). In the
19th century, urban views to be projected with patented optic boxes known as polyoramas panoptiques
became highly popular. We can claim continuity between perspective views and these 19th-century slides in
terms of topographical representation and the use of technical resources, such as the use of backlighting.
However, in contrast to perspective views, the correct visualisation of the polyorama panoptique’s slides
required the user to manipulate the optic device. As such, polyoramas panoptiques offered two visualisation
possibilities, depending on whether the light was directed from the top or the back of the translucent slide.
The analysis of the materiality of polyoramas panoptiques and of the slides, following my work with the Nekes
collection (Research Library, The Getty Research Institute), allows me to argue that, although they were largely
focused on the sense of sight, they cannot be understood in an unembodied way. Images cannot be examined
in isolation, but are inextricably linked with the visor and its operation. I shall also argue that the popularity of
these devices and the repeatability that their use implied, contributed to the modern subject developing skills
in the manipulation and coordination of the senses, part of a body-learning process.

 

Sonsoles Hernández Barbosa is senior lecturer at the department of Historical Sciences and Art Theory at the
University of the Balearic Islands (Spain). Graduated in both Art History and Musicology, she obtained her PhD
at the Université de Paris-Sorbonne and Universidad Complutense de Madrid (PhD Extraordinary Prize). She
has specialized in the study of fin de siècle interartistic relationships. She has published the monographs
Sinestesias. Arte, literatura y música en el París fin de siglo, 1880-1900 (Abada, 2013) and Un martes en casa
de Mallarmé. Redon, Debussy y Mallarmé encontrados (Editorial Complutense, 2010), and papers in journals
such as Visual Studies, Acta musicologica, French Cultural Studies, Bulletin of Spanish Studies, Revista de
Estudios Hispánicos (Washington University in St. Louis) and The Senses & Society. Currently, her research is
focused on the role of the senses in the origins of the mass culture. Within the framework of this project, she
has been awarded with a 2018 Library Research Grant from the Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles. She is
affiliated member at the Visual Studies Research Institute of the University of Southern California.

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