The Art of Illusion: The Panorama of the Battle of Racławice

The Art of Illusion: The Panorama of the Battle of Racławice

The Panorama of the Battle of Racławice (Panorama Racławicka) is a definite must on any trip to the city of Wrocław. The panorama is as iconic to Wrocław as Wawel Castle is to Kraków.

The Wrocław Panorama is a gigantic 114 metre long and 15 metre high painting that depicts the battle of Racławice. This was an epic battle of against Russia in 1794 in the town of Racławice. Thousands of soldiers along with local peasants took up arms and even scythes against the invading Russians led by Tadeuz Kosciuszko. The outcome was a victory for Poland, and the Panorama painting itself was created on the 100 year anniversary of the victory and put on display in Lviv.

The Art of Illusion: The Panorama of the Battle of Racławice

Words can’t really describe the immensity and power of the Panorama. It’s a thorough recreation of the scene of a battle, rendered in 3-dimensional space and using no special effects wizardry. Instead lighting, set design and the curved positioning of the painting all combine to form a curious and effective trick of the eye which actually make you feel as though you’re peering in at a 360 degree battle field.

The Panorama of the Battle of Racławice was created by a group of painters led by Lviv painter Jan Styka along with Wojciech Kossak, Tadeusz Popiel, Teodor Axentowicz, Włodzimierz Tetmajer and took ten months to paint.

The Art of Illusion: The Panorama of the Battle of Racławice

The painting has a strongly patriotic message, one that is central of Poland’s sense of national identity. So it was naturally taken to pieces and hidden away during the Russian invasion of Poland and the subsequent communist era, following World War II. It’s message of independence and triumph over Russia wouldn’t have gone down well then.

The Art of Illusion: The Panorama of the Battle of Racławice

After 1980, a rotunda was constructed and the canvas was put on display again, this time not in Lviv but instead in Wrocław. The Chinese Prime Minister visited the Panorama in 1987. The potential for political storytelling and lasting impressions was not lost on him. He went back to China and commissioned the creation of an even bigger panorama there, depicting the communists’ victory over Kuomintang’s army in 1948.

The Art of Illusion: The Panorama of the Battle of Racławice

The Art of Illusion: The Panorama of the Battle of Racławice

You can listen to the full historical account of the battle, how the Panorama was made and so on, in 16 languages with headphones when you visit there. I could hear people listening in Spanish, French, English and Chinese when I was there, it seems that it’s a universally fascinating display of artistry and craftsmanship. I would highly recommend this place on a trip to Wrocław.

Panorama of the Battle of Racławice
ul. Purkyniego 11
50-155 Wrocław

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