The Image of War: The Crimean War (1853–1856)

von by Ulrich Keller Original aufOriginal in German, angezeigt aufdisplayed in English
PublishedErschienen: 2022-01-18
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    Chloroform, telegraphy, steamships and precision rifles were among the "modern" features of the Crimean War (1853–1856). As the war was observed by numerous press reporters, illustrators and photographers, who sent their text and image reportage to the public back home, it can also be considered the first media war in history. Modern communications technologies enabled events to be reported on almost simultaneously. Reporting was therefore no longer a recording of completed processes after the event, but played an active role in shaping events. To satisfy illustrators and correspondents, both the military and civilian events of the war were carefully stage-managed by those in charge, which made the Crimean War aesthetically attractive, if not spectacular. Traditional historiography with its focus on written sources has thus far ignored this.

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    Though the Crimean War of 1853 to 1856 was gruesome and bloody, it was also colourful and visually fascinating. Its aesthetic appeal at the dawn of modernity was not only captured by traditional artistic genres in aristocratic palaces (chiefly large-sized history paintings by reputed artists), but also by new image media such as photography, lithography and newspaper illustrations, which brought images of the war to broad sections of the population that had scarcely participated in visual culture up to that point. Surprisingly though, this conflict in the Near East more than 150 years ago has left few traces in the European memory of . Russia had triggered hostilities by occupying the northwest region (present day and ) of the declining , and numerous states soon became involved. and were concerned about their interests in the Mediterranean. They entered an alliance with Sultan Abdülmecit I (1823–1861) and sent an expeditionary army to on the . Tsar Nicholas I (1796–1855) immediately withdrew his troops from Ottoman territory, but the middle-class newspapers, fuelled by popular anti-Russian sentiments pervading Britain, forced Queen Victoria (1819–1901) and her government into a war that they did not want. Napoleon III (1808–1873), on the other hand, saw the campaign against as a chance for France to regain its position as a European Great Power, which it had lost in 1815.

    After a period of waiting around the Danube delta, the Franco-British expeditionary corps of about 58,000 men was sent to the in September 1854 with orders to take the Russian navy port of , blow up the docks there, and then vacate the Crimea again, as it would have been militarily difficult to hold it for a long period of time across thousands of miles of supply lines. The manoeuvre was supposed to take just a few days. However, in spite of spectacular victories in the initial engagements, the allies were drawn into an extended siege of Sevastopol, with the opposing armies in a stalemate over the course of the entire winter. Over these months, almost the entire British army died – not as a result of enemy fire, but from hunger, cold and cholera, because the aristocratic British officers looked the part on their horses, but did not have much of an understanding of organizing supply chains and had not organized any medical care worth talking about. It was only after warm weather had returned and the French army had been beefed up to 130,000 soldiers that the tide turned in favour of the allies. In total, it took a year and at least 300,000 casualties to achieve the limited war aim of taking Sevastopol, which finally fell during a bloody attack on 8 September 1855. The Crimean War claimed nearly 800,000 human lives in total.1

    It would nonetheless be of little interest today if it was not the first "modern" war in history, in which precision rifles, steamships and chloroform were used. Generals were already sending their orders to the trenches by telegraph, and ammunition was brought to the front by railway. British historiography, which for a long time focused on epic depictions of battles, was slow to take note of these modern elements, giving them at best marginal attention. This was even more true of aspects of the war that involved aesthetic means. These were the mass of optical signals and images that gave the Crimean War a visually unique character in the eyes of contemporaries. By focusing on written sources, historians have for a long time ignored the visual legacy of the Crimean War, creating the impression that the latter did not belong to the primary layer of historical actions and reality, but was instead a delayed mirror reflection and cosmetic adornment. However, a comprehensive viewing of these image sources shows that aesthetics was a functional component of the war and thus contributed to the historical end result. In many regards, this aestheticization of the events of the war was the most modern aspect of the Crimean campaign.2

    But we need to define more precisely what we mean by "image sources". In the early modern period, history painting and, increasingly, printed images (chiefly wood engraving, copper engraving and lithography), which could be disseminated more widely in the form of single sheets or occasionally as newspaper supplements, were responsible for the visual communication of historical events, and these were primarily aimed at exclusive circles of notables. There was no expectation that the artist would have been an eyewitness to the events depicted, and history paintings typically appeared years or even decades after the events they depicted. They did not, therefore, affect the course of events, but instead performed a commemorative function after the event. However, the increasing acceleration of historical processes undermined the relevance of the genre, and during the course of the 19th century history painting was increasingly replaced by newspaper illustrations, though traditional forms of historical depiction continued to exist as a marginal phenomenon. In any case, the emergence of newspaper reporting represented a dramatic change in the modalities of mediating and therefore of producing history (in its dual meaning of historical action and historical narration). Instead of the slow temporal rhythms of preceding centuries, which were defined by the agrarian economy and feudal rule, technology and industry now set the tempo of history and enabled the virtual simultaneity of event and dissemination. Adapting the dissemination of pictorial news to this tempo was initially a problem. But with the help of new means of transportation (railway) and printing techniques (wood engraving), from 1842 weekly newspapers such as the Illustrated London News, L'Illustration of Paris and the Leipzig Illustrirte Zeitung, and from the 1880s daily newspapers were able to make visual information available to a broad middle-class public. Subsequently, various "low-brow" genres of verbal and visual communication diverged from high literature and high art.

    At the same time, higher standards of factual accuracy and authenticity emerged. Blunt propaganda in the service of the ruler, which had characterized publications in the past, was challenged by a middle-class press that understood itself as impartial and bound by norms of objectivity, even if in practice it had its own ideological biases. And while the ceiling paintings of Versailles could only be viewed by an exclusive circle of courtiers and ambassadors, press reporting sought to enable the whole nation to participate in the historical process. It goes without saying that these new modalities for disseminating history (simultaneity, authenticity, public participation) transformed the structure of the historical events themselves. Press coverage did not report on processes that were over, but on processes that were ongoing and were open to contemporary intervention. Ultimately, press illustration introduced a cosmetic imperative into history. Anyone who was shaping historical events now had to be mindful of how his actions would be perceived by the public as an illustration on a newspaper page. Thus, the careful visual staging of important events for the benefit of artists and press illustrators became a high priority for the country’s political leadership.3

    Modernity in communications emerged initially in and . Consequently, the discussion below focuses on the visual mediation of the Crimean War events in Britain and France, which were close allies, but formed completely different "visual cultures". In the context of weak central state structures in Britain, the aristocracy and the middle classes had worked out an "historical compromise," as a similar arrangement came to be called decades later in Italy. That is to say, the partners agreed not to interfere in the other’s primary sphere of interest, the resolution of conflicts being left to parliament and the judicial system. During the resulting legal battles, in the course of the 18th century an impartial press emerged that was committed to standards of fact that could be vindicated in court instead of fiction, and proof instead of slander. From the late 18th century on, the resulting legal battles prompted the emergence of an impartial press committed to court-proof facts instead of slanderous accusations. Newspapers thus strengthened civil coexistence in spite of all the tensions between social groups, and as privately owned capitalist companies they were not subject to state censorship, either.4 During the Crimean War, this resulted in a rich and varied press coverage in a broad spectrum of newspapers that was at times critical of the government. France, by contrast, was a tightly-organized centralized state. Through a series of revolutions, a succession of social groups had seized the machinery of political power and governance, and had lost control of it again. The respective ruler ruled by repressive means, including censorship of the press, and as the production of art was also organized by the centralized state, the exhibitions of the Académie des Beaux-Arts at the Paris Salon and the purchase of huge history paintings by the state were cornerstones of French pictorial culture. Due to state censorship, underdeveloped press entrepreneurship and the political exploitation of academic painting, press illustration only played a subordinate role in France.5

    New Pictorial Media

    The Newspaper Illustration

    The British press had already sent a number of reporters and a 'special artist' to the Black Sea region in the summer of 1854, but initially not much happened in military terms that was worth depicting, and transport problems hampered journalistic efficiency. But as the conflict shifted to the Crimea in September, there were largescale troop movements and land battles, which could be easily observed by illustrators and reporters, and reported to the audience back home with patriotic enthusiasm. This is an authentic eyewitness sketch of the Charge of the Light BrigadeDer Angriff der Leichten Brigade 1854 IMG, which quickly gained legendary status. The sketch was sent to the Illustrated London News by Constantin Guys (1802–1892). Cavalry battles at the front and the vibrant life of the people behind the front initially gave the coverage the flavour of living narrative, which did not contradict government reports and which hardly stood out from the flood of colourful, embellished battle depictions in painting and lithograph that soon hit the market. However, the catastrophic winter months when the British army died in the trenches outside Sevastopol – not through enemy fire, but due to hunger and cold – made painting and sketching redundant. Only one or two special artists continued to report and through their harrowing illustrations began to play a critical role that was without competition or precedence. The fall of the British government in January 1855 was due to a press campaign initiated by The Times of London, with the Illustrated London News contributing a number of dramatic illustrations of troops freezing in the trenches and one of a soldier in a military hospital who had had his leg amputated.Szene im Militärhospital von Haslar 1855 IMG In this way, the coverage made the suffering of the British army in the Crimea a public event. It should therefore be stressed that – contrary to the view of traditional historiography – newspaper illustrations were not passive depictions of processes that were unfolding independently of them, but were actively involved in the production of history.

    The fact that the illustrated press was itself among the historical actors is demonstrated by the fact that its pictorial attacks on the government in the domestic press were met with defensive measures from the authorities. Queen Victoria decided soon after the intervention of the Illustrated London News to do a series of visits to military hospitals, which were publicized throughout the country by means of press illustrations.Ihre Majestät im Hospital von Brompton 1855 IMG The decimation of the British army outside Sevastopol, which was condemned as a disgrace in liberal newspapers, was pushed into the background by the positive publicity of the appearances of the queen. The nation came to appreciate that the soldiers had died for throne and altar, and this made an important contribution to defusing the government crisis, which at times was rather dangerous. The polyphonic, competing use of illustrations in this way, which allowed opposing groups within society to air their political differences in full-scale pictorial battles, was a historical first.

    For its Crimean coverage, the Illustrated London News depended mainly on the former French cavalry officer Constantin Guys, who had made a name for himself in with brilliant sketches of life in the big city from the flâneur perspective, which Charles Baudelaire (1821–1867) had commented upon with great enthusiasm. However, the Illustrated London News expected him to act as a factual reporter rather than a "historien des mœurs" – the British press was not interested in subjective impressions but in impartial, incontrovertible pictorial documents.6 Many feverishly scribbled drawings made in the heat of battle attest to Guys' having been personally present, and witnessed events first hand. With the caption "Taken on the spot", Guys certified the historical authenticity of one sketch, which recorded the wounded General François Certain de Canrobert (1809–1895)[General Canrobert in der Schlacht von Inkermann 1854 IMG] smoking a cigar at the Battle of . It was these journalistic illustrations and not the photographs of Roger Fenton (1819–1869) that suggested the historically new quality of actuality unembellished by art or fiction. As the winter of 1854/1855 set in, bringing heavy losses for the British army, the experienced cavalryman and reporter Guys was the only 'special artist' to be found at the front, where among other things he captured the emergency transports of wounded British soldiers to the supply harbour of .Türkische Hilfstruppen tragen die kranken britischen Soldaten nach Balaklava 1854 IMG The endless misery captured in these illustrations shocked the readership back home. Among the concrete military effects of this extraordinary coverage – that went beyond merely reflecting events – was the fact that the British army was considerably better supplied during the second winter of the war and, consequently, did not sustain such heavy losses.

    In spite of censorship, there were also fact-based newspaper illustrations in France, as the work of Henri Durand-Brager (1814–1879) for L'Illustration shows. As a naval officer, he was primarily engaged in reconnoitring the enemy. His drawings of Russian coastal installationsFranzösische Grabenstellung vor der Masten-Bastion 1855 IMG and the static warfare around Sevastopol were made for the military, but some of them were passed on to the illustrated press along with anecdotal accounts of life in camp. There can scarcely be any doubt about the objectivity of his quasi-military intelligence depictions of the front, but they also display the limitations of purely factual pictorial reporting. As a visual source on the multifaceted reality of the war, they say very little. Important social aspects of the war are lost among the many technological and topographical details.7

    In France, objective reporting had not yet become established as a journalistic genre, which is why Durand-Brager clarified a number of times that he did not see himself as a "historien des mœurs" and did not claim to be creating art: "What I do belongs in the realm of history, not of imagination".8 In spite of this, his illustrations – particularly during the second winter of the war (1855/1856) – obscured more than they revealed. At that point, Sevastopol had been captured and just had to be held until the conclusion of peace, which was imminent. But the French troops, who now numbered in the six figures, lived crammed together in wet and unhygienic dug-outs. These catastrophic conditions offered Durand-Brager plenty of material for a startling exposé à la Guys. It is unclear whether he made efforts in this direction, but, if he did, they were blocked by censorship. It is highly ironic that at the same time as a major cholera and typhus epidemic in the French camp, which L'Illustration made no reference to in either word or image, the publication instead carried a series of humorous contributions under the title "Types et physionomies de l'armée d'Orient".Typen und Physiognomien in der Orient-Armee 1856 IMG The series had similarities with the contemporary genre of the army novel, which was promoted by the government to improve the image of the army, which had suffered as a result of Waterloo.9


    The Crimean War was the first large war event that was captured photographically, though strictly speaking the camera was not yet an instrument of news reporting in 1854/1855. As the exposure time was still about ten seconds, it could not capture the event itself, but only its material remnants and group photographs of participants arranged afterwards. In spite of the plausible claim to be more faithful to the truth than a pen or a paintbrush, photography proved to be just as limitlessly manipulable and, in spite of its supposedly democratic and egalitarian character, also displayed an incredible closeness to the government line in its reporting.

    As Roger Fenton, photographer to Queen Victoria, appeared in the Crimea in March 1855 with a royal letter of recommendation, he was pursuing two very traditional aims outside of newspaper reporting, which painters and engravers of military subjects have always devoted themselves to.10 Firstly, he was interested in capturing a topographical overview of the theatre of war, starting with a few photographs of the crammed supply port of Balaclava and moving from there to the British camp outside of Sevastopol. This included the mortar batteryEin ruhiger Tag in der Mörserbatterie 1855 IMG, which was popular with tourists. As it was located far behind the trenches and out of range of Russian artillery, it offered a good view of the besieged city from a safe distance. The second aim of his trip, which he clearly viewed as more important, was to produce a portrait series of the British general staff outside of SevastopolOberstleutnant Hallewell nach getaner Arbeit IMG, who lived very comfortably far from the front as befitted their aristocratic status. Only one single nameless private was included in this illustrious assortment, in order to display the British marching uniform. If Fenton had photographed the officers after the end of the war, they would have scarcely looked any different, and it can be proved that about one tenth of his Crimean portraits were in fact taken after the war back in London. Taking portraits was thus at the heart of Fenton's mission to Crimea. The affluent art dealer and publisher Thomas Agnew (1794–1871) in had financed the journey, in order to have the resulting portraits "translated" into a lucrative painting by Thomas Jones Barker (1815–1882).

    With his cumbersome darkroom wagon, which required six artillery horses to pull it through the morass of the Crimea, it was clear from the start that Fenton would not be able to advance to the trenches. After all, this would have been dangerous because there was shooting and death at the trenches. However, among the countless portraits and landscapes that he photographed far from the actual events of the war, he does appear to have photographed one event of genuine military significance, albeit far from the shooting. The caption unambiguously reads The Council of War on the day of the taking of the Mamelon QuarriesDer Kriegsrat am Morgen der Einnahme der Mamelon-Bastion IMG – but this is not so. Admittedly, there was a military council to plan the storming of the enemy redoubt, but it occurred three days previously and was attended by 17 officers, primarily artillery officers and engineers. This too is an indication of the "modernity" of the Crimean War.11 Fenton's photograph proves that the heads of the three armies also met among themselves, but according to his correspondence it happened 24 hours before the attack. This means that they made themselves available to the royal photographer briefly for the purposes of media "window dressing" and willingly allowed him to photograph and portray them as a "war council". It can be assumed that they returned to their actual military problems as quickly as possible. But they nonetheless cooperated with the camera during a critical phase in the campaign. This is a good example of the cosmetic imperative already referred to, which not even supreme commanders could escape from in the middle of a war.

    It seems very likely that Fenton arrived in the Crimea with a list of all of the members of the general staff and tried his best to work his way through it. The resulting portrait series was sold at the very high price of 63 pounds sterling, which would only have been affordable for the wealthy. Doubtlessly it was aimed primarily at the families of the officers photographed. These families were not in the least interested in photographs of the death or wounding of their loved ones, which explains why Fenton did not record scenes of this kind, though he would have witnessed many such scenes.

    As Fenton ran out of negatives and suffered health problems, he left the theatre of war in July 1855, two months before the fall of Sevastopol. It therefore fell to the team of photographers James Robertson (1813–1888) and Felice Beato (1825–1907) to document the end of the war. They used pre-made dry plates. Unlike Fenton's wet collodion negatives, these plates had the advantage of not having to be coated and developed on site. Consequently, before the fall of the city, Robertson and Beato were able to patrol the allied trenches and batteries during sustained cannon fire and document various aspects of siege life without exposing themselves to great personal danger. Their permanent base was , which was at most two days away from the Crimea by ship. They therefore had no difficulty returning to the front shortly after the victory of 8 September. During this visit and a few subsequent excursions (which Beato may have undertaken on his own), they were able to put together a dramatic series of photographs of the captured Russian ring of fortificationsDas Innere der Malakoff-Bastion 1855 IMG and the city, which lay in ruins. The British officers were very keen to get copies of these photographs, in which the fallen soldiers had been removed but the chaos of the bombarded Russian positions was still "fresh". These photographic recordings are a trace of the material remnants of war. The remnants themselves are in turn a trace of the bloody fighting. The photographs are thus two steps removed from the war itself. But to the extent that they are traces rather than depictions, war is more present in them than in the great history paintings.12

    Hints of what Fenton's, Beato's and Robertson's photos all systematically omitted – the human losses of the Crimean campaign – can be found where one would least expect them: in a royal portrait album of privates and non-commissioned officers of the British army. In the winter of 1854/1855, as the siege of Sevastopol was going badly and the cabinet of the Earl of Aberdeen fell, Queen Victoria undertook measures to stabilize the system, such as the visits to invalids from the Crimea in military hospitals already referred to above. During these visits, each individual war invalid was introduced to her, so that she could ask them about their experiences of the war and give them some friendly words of encouragement. They were also photographed by Joseph Cundall (1818–1895). While a few of these photos made it into the press or were reproduced as wood engravings, they owe their existence primarily to the personal interest that the queen took in her soldiers right down to the lowliest private. Sir Charles Beaumont Phipps (1801–1866), her secretary, put together a whole album of these photographs, in which details of the regiment, battles fought in, and the type of injury sustained were noted down in handwriting for each image. Victoria leafed through this album repeatedly over subsequent decades. In emotional letters written by her, she referred to these war invalids as "my nearest and dearest", almost as family members, but the images themselves are conspicuous for their distance and coldness. What are we to make of the pointed manner in which the leg stumps are displayed, alongside prosthetic legs paid for by Victoria herself?William Young, 33. Regt IMG It clearly has less to do with the wishes and interests of the men photographed than it does with the quasi-anthropological interest with which Victoria observed these socially very different people, notwithstanding her effusive feelings of sympathy. The fact that two of the three men had lost their legs not as a result of Russian fire but due to frostbite in the trenches points to a shocking military failure. The fact that in the photo they have accommodation and are provided with blankets would be a consolation, were it not for peripheral details suggesting that this photograph was staged in the barracks square. In an earlier series of photographs, Cundall had not hidden the inhospitable nature of the place. The embellishment measures apparent in this photograph are presumably a response to the complaints that Queen Victoria made to the management of the hospital about the poor accommodation of the veterans. In any event, Cundall's portrait is not a family perspective, but a perspective of social class. Under the existing social order, it was Victoria who had the power and agency, and could subordinate others to her gaze, a gaze that both observed and created social difference.13

    The Crimean War was also documented photographically in France, though, due to a lack of entrepreneurial initiative, this occurred with a delay and on a purely individual basis. Durand-Brager deserves mention in this context also. In early November 1855, he returned to Sevastopol with the amateur photographer Bernard Lassimonne (1787–1877). Under the direction of the painter, Lassimonne made 48 topographical photographs, which subsequently did not sell very well. Charles Langlois (1789–1870) and Léon Méhédin (1828–1905) were another painter-photographer team, though they adopted a different approach. After serving as an officer, Langlois had become a military painter and had a lucrative panorama building on the Champs Elysées. He was able to gain the support of Napoleon III for his project of producing a large panorama painting of the fall of Sevastopol. To give the painting greater respectability, the French government paid for Langlois to travel to the Crimea to witness the fallen city in person. He wished to take photographs while there to assist his memory, but because he did not have the necessary technical skills himself, he paid out of his own pocket for the young photographer Méhédin to make the journey with him, so that he would have photos of topographical details and portraits photos of the officers that he intended to include in his great painting. In particular, a fourteen-part photographic panorama taken from the Malakoff redoubt must have been of great help for Langlois' panorama of Sevastopol, which has since been lost. Thus, around the middle of the nineteenth century, photography was still not useful as an instrument of press reporting, and instead served in both Britain and France mainly as a handmaid to art.14

    The Abdication of History Painting

    British military painters looked enviously at France, where the government spent millions on the purchase of battle paintings. In Britain, by contrast, military subjects were primarily sought after by entrepreneurs, among whom Agnew again deserves special mention. He commissioned well-known artists to depict scenes from the Crimean War in order to make engraving prints from them, which made much higher profits than the paintings themselves. Thomas Barker's Allied Generals before SebastopolDie alliierten Generäle vor Sewastopol 1856 IMG is representative of the whole series of war subjects that Agnew commissioned. The image was painted and engraved under great time pressure in only eleven months, so that it would be current and go on sale before the end of the war. The canvas grouped together no less than 70 prominent officers in front of the fortifications of Sevastopol, and is therefore less of a painting of an event and more of a visual roll of honour. Here, high art, which is normally at home in academies, has sunk to an intermediate step in the commercial production of modern pictorial media. In effect, it is little more than a processing in the medium of painting of Fenton's photos, which Agnew commissioned as a collection of pictorial material for Barker. And the painted version was not an end in itself, but was only a template for the production and dissemination of engraving prints in large print runs. Agnew's enterprise paid off, with the sale of the engraving prints making a profit of 10,000 pounds Sterling. In the process, the formerly autonomous and pacesetting genre of history painting became fully dependent on photography and graphics. Of course, history painting lived on in the palaces of the nobility, but its resonance in society was now insignificant. For example, James Thomas Brudenell, Earl of Cardigan (1797–1868) and the leader of the celebrated Charge of the Light Brigade, commissioned a very large portrait by the fashion painter Alfred F. de Prades (1840–1895), which hung in his salon, depicting him daringly leading his troopsLord Cardigan an der Spitze der Leichten Brigade IMG – after his very premature retreat from the battle had been the cause of much muttering. But ultimately his reputation was not decided by the adornments of his stately home, but by the press coverage.15

    In France, by contrast, the state used academic painting as a kind of auxiliary public relations agency, which had to serve the changing political priorities. A state system of exhibition and purchasing kept the artists in line with the government and also made the strict mimetic programme for the production of paintings the norm, to ensure the smooth transfer of the desired message in the paintings. Optimal faithfulness to nature and costume, the awarding of official prizes for works, the elevation of history painting to an academic discipline through the study of history and archives, artists being eyewitnesses to the events and places they depicted, and other such aspects gave the resulting paintings and their state-mythologizing message a high degree of credibility. But all this created the paradox that academic painting with its strict mimetic faithfulness to detail resulted in a kind of painted photograph of an event, which could nonetheless never be anything more than an official government construct. From 1855 to 1861, the approximately one hundred Crimean subjects that the state had purchased for nearly one million francs could be admired in the salons.16

    In short, history painting was an affair of state of the highest order in Paris. Adolphe Yvon's (1817–1893) painting The Taking of the Malakoff RedoubtDie Einnahme der Malakoff-Bastion IMG – the key Russian position – was paradigmatic of this. With the fall of the redoubt, the Crimean War was lost for Russia. Yvon's commission for a largescale canvas came from the emperor himself, who approved a princely fee of 20,000 francs for the commission and also arranged for the minister of the navy to transport the painter to the Crimea on a frigate with a crew of 300 men, so that the painting project could be based on the artist having been an 'eyewitness'. Additionally, the army assisted with the "lending" of soldiers, weapons and uniforms, and, as a critic noted, battle painters like Yvon were obliged to strictly adhere to the accounts of the battle in army bulletins. The enforced objectivity that history painting was subject to, which was to an extent open to academic verification, led to complications in the symbolism of the genre. For example, it was no longer possible to adhere to the traditional order of ranks from generals to privates. The positioning of the various ranks on the canvass was no longer determined by social precedence but by the rules of perspective and actual vouched occurrences during the course of the battle. Yvon thus opted for a paratactically organized painting that, instead of a hierarchical-pyramidical style of composition, contained a high density of episodes and figures from one edge to the other, clearly drawing on the organizational principle of panorama paintings. His canvass could therefore lay claim to greater documentary value that the illustration that appeared in L'Illustration shortly after the fall of the Malakoff redoubt. Durand-Brager had drawn the latter at home in Paris based on the initial vague telegraph reports and his own knowledge of the location. In conclusion, it can be said that, through its subordination to the dictate of objectivity of the positivist epoch, history painting had reached its limits. Its societal relevance had once lain in its function as a myth machine, but transporting myths had become increasingly difficult under the dictate of army bulletins and in its hopeless competition with press illustrations. To make it as current as possible, Yvon had completed his colossal painting, which measured 54 square metres in area, in a tour de force of only nine months. This was soon no longer worth the time and effort involved, and towards the end of the century history painting disappeared out of contemporary French artwork.17

    New Media: Big City Show Business

    At the extremity of the spectrum of pictorial media, in a transition zone to three-dimensional, more or less theatrical performances without the status of high art, one encounters popular mass attractions whose spectacle put all traditional war depictions on canvas and paper in the shade. Historically, this show business originated in the period of the French Revolution, during which the rise of the middle classes resulted in such a massive expansion in the consumption of art that traditional cabinet painting lagged hopelessly behind demand in quantitative terms. Painters with entrepreneurial flare recognized the opportunity that lay in producing largescale popular paintings, such as panoramas and dioramas, which in the foreground transitioned to the three-dimensional, which could be complemented by performances by troops of actors, and which – like cinema – offered entertainment by the hour for an entrance fee.

    In addition to the changing Crimean depictions in Robert Burford's (1791–1861) panorama, the most exciting Crimean War attractions in were the fake battles that were staged each night among largescale models of the fortifications of Sevastopol in the Surrey Zoological Gardens or Astley's Amphitheatre. Long before it happened in reality, spectators were able to enjoy the fall of Sevastopol here as a running spectacle. Actual and staged war theatre were also made indistinguishable by the willingness of invalids of the Crimean War to play themselves for a small fee each evening at the Zoological GardensBild-Modell der Stadt und der Befestigungen von Sewastopol im Zoologischen Garten von Surrey IMG.18 But nonchalant dandies and elegant ladies in crinoline could enjoy museum-style renderings of the war during the day as well, such as James Wyld's (1812–1887) relief panorama of the siege of Sevastopol, which also offered the opportunity to inspect captured Russian rifles.Ausstellung des Relief-Modells der Belagerung von Sewastopol IMG 

    In contrast to London, the entertainment sphere in Paris was not yet fully defined by the influence of big capital. In particular, permanent institutions of show business had not yet emerged. However, show business nonetheless experienced a number of short-term successes that were inspired by the war. For example, the siege of in the initial campaign of the Crimean War was converted into a spectacle for the masses during a summer festival in August 1854 at the Champ de Mars with a backdrop a kilometre and a half wide and whole battalions of combatants, who according to a contemporary press report "massacred each other dutifully to the bitter end". The panorama genre also struggled in Paris, but thanks to the support of Napoleon III, in 1860 Langlois was able to open his panoramic painting of the storming of Sevastopol referred to above, and in spite of the delay it drew many spectators over a period of five years.19

    It is remarkable that show business did not escape the pressure to show itself to be "authentic". For example, the largescale model of the siege in the Surrey Zoological Gardens was produced by the painter George Danson (1799–1881) with quasi-scientific accuracy based on maps, drawings and eyewitness accounts.20 Panorama painters adopted a similar approach and often used photos of the theatres of war. Thus, in spite of its sensationalist presentation, show business too adopted the pose of factual objectivity. It is clear that this was necessary to maximize public appeal.

    But Paris and London were not only filled with spectacular post hoc renderings of Crimean events in art and show business. The public of these two metropoles were also able to attend countless planning, test and training exercises, through which the military events were preprogrammed in detail. For example, before the beginning of the Crimean campaign, a detonation of a mineBelagerungsoperationen in Chatham – Zündung einer Mine 1854 IMG took place for test purposes in near London. It was applauded by a curious crowd of spectators with an enthusiasm that was subsequently typical of allied soldiers when they cheered the impact of mortars on the besieged Sevastopol.Sewastopol aus der Sicht hinter dem Großen Redan 1856 IMG In general, one can conclude that the shaping of history had been transferred to those who had the means to test and repeat desired scenarios. This confirms Jean Baudrillard's (1929–2007) thesis that today "das Wirkliche aus Miniatureinheiten, Matrizen, Datenbanken und Generalstabsmodellen hergestellt wird – und dass das Wirkliche wie diese unendlich oft reproduziert werden kann."21 The prehistory of this postmodern observation began with the Crimean War.

    In summation, it is clear that the Crimean War occurred in the context of pre-existing, enormous apparatuses of depiction that made the representation of history an epiphenomenon of big-city spectacle. The printing presses and the amphitheatres had always run at full speed and demanded to be fed, even before the historical events had arrived. When they arrived, they did so in pre-made costumes on existing stages. Or put in another way, the war that was actually waged, was constantly forced to compete aesthetically with the other one that had long since been occurring on the stages of London and Paris. An aperçu of the British cavalry colonel Edward Cooper Hodge (1810–1894) sums it up well. After observing a Crimean cannonade at night, he drily observed in a letter home: "The amusement park in Vauxhall is much better, as our girls would say." A French artillery officer similarly commented that the patterns of big-city cultural consumption were shaping the perception of the Crimean War. As the burial of fallen soldiers after an attack drew large numbers of spectators to the allied fortifications, it seemed to him that they thought they were "attending an opera burial".22 The promise of modern media to make simultaneity, authenticity and the ability to participate possible in the dissemination of history ultimately could not be kept in this context. The spectacular presentation of the fall of Sevastopol in theatre, art and the press mushroomed beyond all objective information. In the constant pre-empting and repetition of events, the moment of simultaneity got lost, and it is not accurate to speak of popular participation in events because the sensationalist, profit-oriented media display left the paying public with little more than the role of passive consumption.

    Ulrich Keller



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    Guys, Constantin: Crimean War Drawings, with an introduction by Karen Smith, exhibition catalogue of Cleveland Museum of Art, Cleveland, OH 1978.

    Hodge, Edward C.: Little Hodge: Being Extracts from the Diaries and Letters of Colonel Edward C. Hodge Written during the Crimean War, 1854–1856, edited by George C. Marquess of Anglesey, London 1971.

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    Queen Victoria: The Letters of Queen Victoria: A Selection from Her Majesty's Correspondence Between the Years 1837 and 1861, ed. by Arthur Christopher Benson et al. (eds.),New York 1907, vol. 1–6. URL: (vol. 1–3) [2021-12-13].

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    Langlois, Jean Charles: : La photographie, la peinture, la guerre: Correspondence inédite de Crimée (1855–1856), ed. by François Robichon et al., Nîmes 1992.

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    Agnew, Geoffrey: Agnew's 1817–1867, London 1967.

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    Baudrillard, Jean: The Precession of Simulacra, in: Brian Wallis et al. (eds.): Art After Modernism: Rethinking Representation, New York, NY 1984.

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    1. ^ A good overview of the political and military events of the war can be found in Baumgart, Crimean War 1999, and Barker, Vainglorious War 1970 and Figes, Crimean War 2011.
    2. ^ On this and following questions, more detailed passages (which are not quoted here) and additional literature can be found in Keller, Ultimate Spectacle 2001, and in Keller, Schlachtenbilder, Bilderschlachten 2010; see also the older, not always dependable study of Lalumia, Realism and Politics 1984.
    3. ^ On the emergence of pictorial coverage see Keller, Ultimate Spectacle 2001, pp. 71ff., and Germer, Taken on the Spot 1997, pp. 29ff.
    4. ^ See Burn, Age of Equipoise 1965, passim; Perkin, Modern English Society 1780–1880 1969, pp. 271ff.; on the increasing separation of fact and fiction in England in the 18th century, see Davis, Factual Fictions 1983, pp. 85ff.
    5. ^ On the situation in France, see the excellent work of Bardon, Militärmalerei 1980, pp. 82ff.; Boime, French Painting 1971; Sherman, Worthy Monuments 1989. The traces of the Crimean War in the French illustrated press, photography and painting are not dealt with in my book The Ultimate Spectacle 2001, but I have corrected this omission at least in outline in Keller, Schlachtenbilder, Bilderschlachten 2010.
    6. ^ On Guys, see Duflo, Constantin Guys 1988, and Guys, Crimean War Drawings 1978. Guys once explained to a Paris colleague: "D’abord le journal [Illustrated London News] n’est pas un recueil purement artistique, c’est un journal sérieux, je veux dire vrai" (Duflo 1988, p. 58).
    7. ^ On Durand-Brager, see Bardon, Militärmalerei 1980, pp. 82ff. Details of the conditions of his reporting activity can be found here and there in his numerous reports from the front printed in L’Illustration 1854–1856.
    8. ^ See Durand-Brager's letter to the editor in L’Illustration of 27/1/1855.
    9. ^ On the catastrophe of infectious diseases in the French army, see Rousset, Histoire 1878, vol. 2, pp. 458ff., and Quesnoy, Souvenirs historiques 1858, pp. 153ff.; as well as Bardon, Militärmalerei 1980, pp. 142ff.
    10. ^ Still authoritative on Fenton's Crimean expedition is the monograph by Gernsheim, Roger Fenton 1954.
    11. ^ Nolan, War Against Russia 1857, vol. 2, p. 326, names 17 participants in the actual war council, that occurred (according to Bédarrides, Journal humoristique 1868, vol. 2, p. 373) on 4 June, not three days later on the morning of the attack.
    12. ^ On Robertson's and Beato's Crimean photos, see Gernsheim, Roger Fenton 1954, p. 24f.; also Öztuncay, James Robertson 1992. On the distinction between trace and representation, that is "indexical and iconic signs", see Peirce, Logic as Semiotic 1985, pp. 1ff.
    13. ^ On Queen Victoria's visits to the invalid hospitals, see Woodham-Smith, Queen Victoria 1972, vol. 1, pp. 349ff. The letter quotation comes from: Benson, Victoria 1907, vol. 3, p. 161.
    14. ^ On Lassimonne, there is nearly no literature. On Langlois and Méhédin, see Robichon, Jean Charles Langlois 1992; Musée des Beaux-Arts, Jean-Charles Langlois 1789–1870 2005; Gerber, Un aventurier du Second Empire 1992.
    15. ^ On the history and commercial strategies of the Agnew art dealer dynasty, see Agnew, Agnew's 1817–1867 1967, pp. 61ff.
    16. ^ See the excellent description of the institutional context of French military painting in Bardon, Militärmalerei 1980; particularly pp. 249ff., on the large commission of the government for several Crimean subjects for hundreds of thousands of francs.
    17. ^ On Yvon's role in the Crimean War, see Germer, Taken on the Spot 1997, pp. 29ff.; Bardon, Militärmalerei 1980, pp. 77f. and 109ff.; as well as Yvon, Souvenirs 1933, pp. 844ff.
    18. ^ The London pictorial attractions are described in vibrant detail in Altick, Shows of London 1978; see also Oettermann, Panorama 1980, particularly pp. 88ff., on Burford's panorama.
    19. ^ The quotation is contained in L’Illustration, 19 August 1854. On Langlois' panorama, see Oettermann, Panorama 1980, pp. 124ff.
    20. ^ See the relevant details in Illustrated London News of 2 June 1855.
    21. ^ Baudrillard, Precession of Simulacra 1984, p. 254 ("the real is created from miniature units, matrices, databases and general staff models – and that the real like these can be reproduced endlessly." transl. by N. Williams).
    22. ^ Hodge, Diaries and Letters 1971, p. 111; Bédarrides, Journal humoristique 1868, p. 385.

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    : The Image of War: The Crimean War (1853–1856), in: Europäische Geschichte Online (EGO), hg. vom Leibniz-Institut für Europäische Geschichte (IEG), Mainz European History Online (EGO), published by the Leibniz Institute of European History (IEG), Mainz 2022-01-18. URL: URN: urn:nbn:de:0159-2022011704 [JJJJ-MM-TT][YYYY-MM-DD].

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