In the late 18th century a painter from Newcastle called Robert Barker began experimenting with perspective in exciting new ways. His greatest invention was the ‘panorama’: a 360 degree view of a place painted on the inside of a huge cylinder. Standing in the centre of the cylinder, Barker’s spectator was completely surrounded by the view. His immersive panoramas influenced other topographical artists to start toying with the conventions of perspective.
Robert’s son Henry, for example, used the tricks of ‘anamorphosis’ to render the top view of Norwich in this plate. This involves perspective being distorted in such a way that it requires the viewer to use a special device, like a conical or cylindrical mirror, to return the landscape to normal. Landmarks are labelled and can be cross-referenced using a key inscribed around the edge of the plate.
Drawing an anamorphic or ‘fish-eye’ panorama was a little more complicated than producing a standard perspectival one. To do so the artist had to prepare a circular frame by drawing concentric circles within it and adding spokes radiating from its centre, like a wheel. This created trapezoid-shaped cells into which topographical detail could then be drawn, cell by cell. The centre point for Barker’s fish-eye panorama is Norwich Castle and Jail, which stand on a hill overlooking the city. Both buildings are depicted in the coloured view below. The print is dedicated to Norwich’s Justices of the Peace.