Perhaps more than any other type of museum display, dioramas, particularly those in military museums, are expected to be all things to all people. To justify their role as an explanatory tool they must be ‘accurate’ representations of history, yet to survive in the modern museum environment they must also be artefacts or artworks in their own right, flexible enough to adjust to changing tastes and perceptions. Diorama artists are constrained, however, by three seemingly incompatible approaches: representing a single moment in a complex event, compressing timelines in order to show multiple ‘moments’, and the creation of a hypothetical, generic representation of ‘battle’. The issue of scale is also problematic, for the more a diorama shows of a battle, the less it is able to communicate the individual human experience of conflict. To engage with individual trauma in this manner is nevertheless problematic given that the great battles of history are traditionally linked to national achievement, yet the modern conception of war is increasingly one that characterises it as a destroyer of civilisations rather than a stepping stone in the creation of the nation state. This article explores how The Royal Armouries (Leeds, UK), The Royal Green Jackets (Rifles) Museum (Winchester, UK) and the Australian War Memorial (Canberra, Australia), have grappled with these issues, ones which position dioramas uneasily between art and history.
dioramas, diorama artists, history, military, museums, representation, war