- Circus performers (17)
- Entertainers (16)
- Circus Ciniselli (8)
- Horsemanship (6)
- Horses (6)
- Ringling Brothers Barnum and Bailey Combined Shows (5)
- Acrobatics (3)
- Ciniselli, Gaetano, 1815-1881 (3)
- Costumes (3)
- Elephants (3)
- Animals (2)
- Arenas (2)
- Ciniselli, Scipione (2)
- Cole Brothers Circus (2)
- Crowds (2)
- Parade floats (2)
- Portraits (2)
- Ringling Brothers (2)
- Wagons (2)
- Aerialists (1)
- Amusement parks (1)
- Barnum and Bailey (1)
- Beatty, Clyde, 1903-1965 (1)
- Carriages and carts (1)
- Children (1)
- Circus spectacles (1)
- Clowns (1)
- Correspondence (1)
- Employees (1)
- Great Forepaugh Show (1)
- Guerra, Alessandro, 1790-1862 (1)
- Hagenbeck-Wallace Circus (1)
- Horse-drawn vehicles (1)
- John Robinson's Circus (1)
- King, Allen (1)
- Letters (1)
- Manners and customs (1)
- Pantomime (1)
- Parades and processions (1)
- Portrait photographs (1)
- Programs (1)
- Railroad cars (1)
- Round buildings (1)
- Sells-Floto Circus (1)
- Spectators (1)
- Street scenes (1)
- Zebras (1)
Type of Item
Group of Circus Performers
This December 1932 photograph shows the members of three world-famous trapeze acts posing in the safety net at La Scala in Berlin: The Flying Codonas of Mexico, The Flying Concellos of the United States, and Les Amadori of Italy. Shown from left to right are Genesio Amadori (Les Amadori), Art Concello (The Flying Concellos), Alfredo Codona (The Flying Codonas), Vera (Bruce) Codona (The Flying Codonas), Antoinette Concello (The Flying Concellos), Ginevra Amadori (Les Amadori), Everett White (The Flying Concellos), Lalo Codona (The Flying Codonas), and Goffreddo Amadori (Les Amadori). The ...
Letter from Otto Ringling, October 26, 1907
Otto Ringling (1858–1911) was the son of a German immigrant who, with his brothers Albert, Alfred, Charles, John, August, and Henry, created the Ringling Bros. circus empire in the late 19th century. The brothers bought the competing Barnum & Bailey Circus in 1907. They ran the circuses separately at first, but merged them in 1919 to create the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, which came to be known as “the Greatest Show on Earth.” This letter, written by Otto to his brothers in October 1907, details how the assets ...
Circus Spectacle Float
This photograph depicts an elaborate spectacle float in the “backyard” of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus in September 1922. The spectacle, or “spec,” often opened the show and was a procession that took place around the hippodrome track inside the big top, or circus tent, featuring as many of the performers and animals as the circus director was able to costume. Traced back to the earliest circuses in America, the spec was originally a lavish performance of literary or historical tales intended to entertain and edify the audience ...
Ringling Bros. Lion Tableau Wagon
Parades to celebrate the arrival of the circus to town in America featured highly decorated wagons carrying the circus band and artists along main thoroughfares to the big top circus tent, attracting patrons along the way. This “Lion Tableau” wagon was built by Sebastian Wagon Works of New York City in approximately 1880 for the Adam Forepaugh Circus. A telescoping platform holding the figure of Saint George fighting a dragon was removed around 1889 and the lower portion was converted into a bandwagon. The wagon was purchased by the Ringling ...
John Robinson's Circus
This 1929 photograph shows the interior of John Robinson's Circus during a spectacle, or “spec,” performance of King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba in Cincinnati, Ohio. In the American circus, the spec developed as a procession that took place around the hippodrome track inside the big top, or circus tent, featuring as many of the performers and animals as the circus director was able to costume. John Robinson’s Circus was especially known for its dazzling productions of King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba, which offered a ...
Back Door Scene at the American Circus
In the American circus, the area directly behind the circus tent or arena where performers prepared for and staged their entrances through the “back door” came to be known as the “backyard.” This glass-plate negative from 1928 reveals a typical backyard scene of an American circus just prior to performance of the spectacular production number. The spectacle, or “spec,” was a procession that took place around the hippodrome track inside the big top, or circus tent, featuring as many of the performers and animals as the circus director was able ...
Circus Midway Scene
This 1935 photograph shows a crowd gathering on the midway of the Hagenbeck-Wallace Circus, heading towards the entrance marquee tent. On the left is the painted banner line depicting freaks and attractions in the sideshow, an added fee attraction operating before the main show. On the right can be seen concession tents and ticket wagons. Visible behind the marquee entrance is the “free” menagerie tent consisting of the exhibition of exotic caged animals, elephants, and other lead stock. By the 1930s, the midway had become an important part of the ...
Cole Bros. Circus
This 1935 image presents a scene from a typical moderate-sized 20th-century American circus. A crowd watches as baggage wagons from the Cole Bros. Circus are being pulled over flatcars. The railcars are marked Clyde Beatty and Allen King, who were two of the more notable animal trainers of the period. Behind the flatcars are stock cars that held elephants and baggage horses. This scene was repeated daily, morning and night, in railroad yards in communities across the United States. Cole Bros. Circus was established in 1884 by William Washington Cole ...
Free Street Parade of the Sells-Floto Circus
This colorful lithograph advertises the upcoming street parade of the Sells-Floto Circus, promoting ticket sales to the local residents for the twice-a-day shows. The artwork captures the grandeur of the American circus parade in the 1920s. The parade is led by a rider wearing an 18th-century costume and carrying a circus banner. Behind the rider is a group of mounted horsemen, elephants in costumes worn in big production number during the show (“spec costuming”), a band, and a number of circus wagons. Several of the elephants and wagons promote the ...
Pay Off of Spec—the Good Old Times
In the American circus, the spectacle, or “spec,” developed as a procession that took place around the hippodrome track inside the big top, or circus tent, featuring as many of the performers and animals as the circus director was able to costume. Traced back to the earliest circuses in America, the spec was originally a lavish performance of literary or historical tales intended to entertain and edify the audience. The costumes created for specs were often exotic, representing cultures from all corners of the globe. The costumes also could be ...
Ringling Circus Winter Quarters, Sarasota, Florida
John Ringling (1866–1936), one of the seven Ringling brothers who dominated the development of the American circus in the late 19th and early 20th century, moved the winter quarters of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus from its original quarters in Bridgeport, Connecticut, to Sarasota, Florida. Ringling’s vision, as recalled by Fred Bradna, equestrian director for the show, in his book The Big Top, was to “lay out the quarters like a zoo, and thousands of visitors will pay to see it. I’ll build an open-air ...
Portrait and Sketch of Alessandro Guerra
This portrait of Alessandro Guerra (1790−1862) was produced by Vincent (also called Vincenzo) Gozzini and engraved by Giovanni Paolo Lasinio around 1830, the period in which Guerra (dubbed "Il furioso" for his daring style of acrobatics on horseback) was at the height of his performing success. The rhymed couplet at the bottom of the illustration refers to Guerra’s skill and his worldwide fame. A direct rival of the famous English equestrian acrobat Andrew Ducrow, Guerra was one of the most significant artists of the circus in the early ...
December 26 Program of the Ciniselli Circus
This one-page document is the very first program of the well-known Ciniselli Circus (now the Bolshoi Saint Petersburg State Circus) for a performance that took place on Monday, December 26, 1877. Four acts were by members of Ciniselli family. Nearly all other acts were by famous performers from abroad, for example, German equestrienne Oceana Renz and the Italian clown Tanti. Following a musical opening, the circus featured a total of 15 acts, with a ten-minute intermission. The acts included horses, clowns, gymnastics, and music. The Ciniselli Circus was founded in ...
Italian-born Gaetano Ciniselli (1815−81) was the head of a large circus family, a circus equestrian, and a horse trainer who was taught by the famous French riding master François Baucher (1796−1873). He achieved fame throughout Europe and in 1877 founded and became director of the Ciniselli Circus in Saint Petersburg, which was housed in the first stone structure in Russia purpose-built for circus. He brought to the Saint Petersburg public all of the best performers and pantomimes of Europe. This portrait of Ciniselli was taken by Charles Bergamasco ...
Liberty Act by Gaetano Ciniselli
Italian-born Gaetano Ciniselli (1815−81) was a circus equestrian and horse trainer who in 1877 founded the Ciniselli Circus (now the Bolshoi Saint Petersburg State Circus). The circus was housed in the first stone structure in Russia purpose-built for circus. In this painting, Ciniselli is shown performing the liberty horse act, which was an invariable part of the circus program until his death in 1881. The term "liberty horse act" refers to an act in which the horses are directed with verbal commands and are not mounted or held by ...
Ciniselli Circus Water Pantomime
This poster by an unknown artist is devoted to the Ciniselli Circus water pantomime (probably The Four Elements). Produced in Berlin by the firm Dinse & Eckert, the picture is a colored lithograph with the letters written in gold. The water pantomime was performed for the first time in Russia in 1892. In The Four Elements, water rushed down in a cascade and fountains gushed out in different places of the arena. Deer, elephants, and horses with riders swam in the arena lake. Pantomime, an art form in which the story ...
Rules of Conduct for the Ciniselli Circus
This placard contains the rules of conduct for the Ciniselli Circus in Saint Petersburg set by the management. Issued on January 10, 1891, the rules were published in two languages: French and German. The choice of languages, combined with circus programs of the period, demonstrates that nearly all the performers in the circus came from abroad. The 18 points regulated the lives of circus personnel. Performers and staff were required to attend all rehearsals and to take care of their equipment and costumes; everyone was required to be ready at ...
The Ciniselli Circus (now the Bolshoi Saint Petersburg State Circus) opened on December 26, 1877. The first stone structure in Russia purpose-built for the circus, it was regarded by many as the most beautiful circus building in Europe. The building was designed by architect Vasily Kenel (1834–93), who also produced this watercolor, which has his signature in the lower right-hand corner. The building was a unique engineering structure for its time, designed and built on the basis of the state-of-the-art engineering principles and methods. For the first time, inner ...
Liberty Act by Scipione Ciniselli
This black and white lithograph of 1900 depicts Scipione Ciniselli, director of the Ciniselli Circus (now the Bolshoi Saint Petersburg State Circus), and his twelve liberty horses in the final act of the performance. The term "liberty horse act" refers to an act in which the horses are directed with verbal commands and are not mounted or held by reins; the horses are "at liberty." Scipione was the son of Gaetano Ciniselli, who founded the circus in 1877. Following Gaetano’s death in 1881, leadership of the circus passed first ...
Interior of the New Ciniselli Circus
This lithograph of 1878 shows the interior of the Ciniselli Circus (now the Bolshoi Saint Petersburg State Circus), which opened on December 26, 1877. The decor of the auditorium of the circus was luxurious. The crimson velvet of the armchairs was complemented by gold, mirrors, and crystal chandeliers. The dome was covered with canvas showing floral ornaments and equestrian scenes. The boxes and stalls could seat 1,500 people, but the auditorium was designed to accommodate up to 5,000 people by using the spacious standing gallery. The features of ...
Arena Circus (2001), Khabarovsk, Russia
This photograph of the Khabarovsk State Circus in Gagarin Park was taken in 2001 by Dr. William Brumfield, American photographer and historian of Russian architecture, as part of the "Meeting of Frontiers" project at the Library of Congress. Founded in 1858 as a military outpost, Khabarovsk (population over 600,000) is strategically located at the confluence of the Ussuri and Amur rivers near the Chinese border. As one of the most important Russian cities in the Far East, Khabarovsk has a broad array of cultural institutions, but until the early ...