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Stanford University
Exquisite Reality: Photography and the Invention of Nationhood, 1851–1900
Temporary Exhibition

Exquisite Reality: Photography and the Invention of Nationhood, 1851–1900

March 29, 2021–March 31, 2022

A Cantor Arts Center Curatorial Fellow Exhibition

An image of the Roman Forum in the 19th century.

Gaetano Pedo Studio (Italian, 1880–1890), The Roman Forum, Rome (Roma, Foro Romano), 19th century. Albumen print. Museum Purchase Fund, 1973.63.2

 

This exhibition and accompanying publication are organized by Danny Smith, Cantor Curatorial Fellow, and Cantor Arts Center staff. Danny is a PhD candidate in the Department of Art & Art History at Stanford University. We gratefully acknowledge support from the Kenneth D. Brenner Family Fund for Student Outreach, the Geballe Fund for Academic Initiatives, and the Drs. Ben and A. Jess Shenson Fund.

 


An introduction to Exquisite Reality by Danny Smith

Invented and refined in the 1830s and 1840s, photography was initially hailed as an apolitical medium, a pure marriage of science and art. The French critic Francis Wey celebrated its ability to represent what he called “exquisite reality” — to depict the world exactly as it was.

But while many championed photography as modern and objective, the medium quickly became a powerful political tool. In nineteenth-century France, photographers were dispatched from Paris to document the nation’s historical patrimony. In Italy, under King Vittorio Emanuele II, they were commissioned to depict the monuments of once-warring kingdoms as the shared heritage of a newly unified nation. British photographers took to the countryside, fueled by the popular Gothic Revival movement, to document the monuments of the Middle Ages. The images they made recast these buildings as the source of modern British power and an antidote to the ills of the Industrial Revolution. Ottoman sultans sent photographers to document the empire’s vast holdings, stretching across the Eastern Mediterranean, with the specific directive to depict the diverse subjects as a unified nation.

While photographers documenting their own nations stoked nationalistic pride and patriotism, those working abroad generally served explicitly colonial purposes. As European governments seized territory across Africa, Asia, and the Middle East, their photographers documented sites they perceived as exotic and mysterious for audiences back home. The images popularized racist and orientalist notions of distant lands rich in history, peoples, and resources ripe for exploitation.

Photography not only reproduces the world that a photographer sees; it also reveals how they see it. The pictures featured in this exhibition document the ideologies, biases, and aspirations of artists, patrons, and audiences in the nineteenth century. Exquisite Reality brings together landscape photographs made over nearly fifty years, from the first French missions to photo-document architecture in 1851 to surveys of Italian infrastructure made in the beginning of the twentieth century. Collectively they demonstrate both how photography was shaped by prevalent ideologies, and how it became a political force in its own right, illustrating as fact what was very often a selective political fiction.

The works below are organized around four broad categories, each a quality evoked by the photographs: history, modernity, mystery, and travel. Such categories are hardly exclusive, however; you'll see a single image might use a historical building to frame a modern scene, or a distant landscape to depict an exotic scene. As you explore the exhibition, consider not only what these images depict but what senses they convey and how they shape what we as viewers consider what appears modern, or ancient, or exotic, or distant.

The cover of Exquisite Reality exhibition publication cover

Exhibition Publication

Click the button below to view the publication that accompanies Exquisite Reality: Photography and the Invention of Nationhood, 1851-1900.

 

We gratefully acknowledge support from the Kenneth D. Brenner Family Fund for Student Outreach, the Geballe Fund for Academic Initiatives, and the Drs. Ben and A. Jess Shenson Fund.

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History

Photography looked back toward the past and, in doing so, reflected its own present moment.

 


A Scene in York compared with Kneeling Pilgrims in front of a Church (Notre Dame?)

A Scene in York, 1845 by William Henry Fox Talbot

One of the oldest examples of an architectural photograph, William Henry Fox Talbot’s A Scene in York depicts York Minster cathedral scarcely visible in the background of a streetscape. Taken in the early 1840s, this image was one of the twenty-four that Fox Talbot included in his The Pencil of Nature, the first commercially published book of photographs. Alongside images of china cabinets, manuscripts, and his own family, Fox Talbot included a notice to readers: “The plates of the present work are impressed by the agency of Light alone, without any aid whatever from the artist’s pencil.”

But while Fox Talbot’s pictures reproduced a scene without the aid of the artist’s hand, what scenes he chose to render and how he chose to render them were entirely the artist’s decisions. His framing here carefully shows the street’s details, while the cathedral behind dissolves into light. The photograph contrasts the modern city with a Gothic cathedral: one sharp and clear, the other hazy and mysterious.

Fox Talbot’s exactly rendered photograph echoes David Cox Jr.’s impressionistic watercolor of a cathedral, made roughly contemporaneously. Both depict a church through a Romantic gaze, framing Gothic architecture as sublime, mystical, historical. Fox Talbot’s early architectural image presaged decades of similar images: photographs promoted as exact reproductions that actually depicted the many choices and influences of the photographer.

 

Click thumbnails below to switch between images.

An image depicting kneeling pilgrims in front of a church (possibly Notre Dame) in the 19th century

One of the oldest examples of an architectural photograph, William Henry Fox Talbot’s A Scene in York depicts York Minster cathedral scarcely visible in the background of a streetscape. Taken in the early 1840s, this image was one of the twenty-four that Fox Talbot included in his The Pencil of Nature, the first commercially published book of photographs. Alongside images of china cabinets, manuscripts, and his own family, Fox Talbot included a notice to readers: “The plates of the present work are impressed by the agency of Light alone, without any aid whatever from the artist’s pencil.”

But while Fox Talbot’s pictures reproduced a scene without the aid of the artist’s hand, what scenes he chose to render and how he chose to render them were entirely the artist’s decisions. His framing here carefully shows the street’s details, while the cathedral behind dissolves into light. The photograph contrasts the modern city with a Gothic cathedral: one sharp and clear, the other hazy and mysterious.

Fox Talbot’s exactly rendered photograph echoes David Cox Jr.’s impressionistic watercolor of a cathedral, made roughly contemporaneously. Both depict a church through a Romantic gaze, framing Gothic architecture as sublime, mystical, historical. Fox Talbot’s early architectural image presaged decades of similar images: photographs promoted as exact reproductions that actually depicted the many choices and influences of the photographer.

 

Click thumbnails below to switch between images.

Click below to see how other artists have depicted Gothic architecture.

 


The Roman Forum, Rome (Roma, Foro Romano)

An image of the Roman Forum in the 19th century.

This image by the Gaetano Pedo Studio depicts Rome as the Eternal City, a nickname it has held since the first century BCE. In the very foreground are the ancient bricks of a ruined column, giving way to the marble outline of a classical temple. Deeper in, a medieval building rises. In the background, a modern, nineteenth-century city is visible. As the image recedes it gets more crowded — the barren foreground gives way to cramped, dense buildings. The scene represents a cross section of nearly two millennia of Roman history, unfolding from the Forum, where the photographer stands, to the city in the distance. At the very center, two figures, practically invisible amid the stones, introduce a human scale, reminding us of our own physical and temporal scale against the vast sweep of history.

Click below to see how other photographers documented the legacies of the ancient world in Italy.


Rue Visconti

An image of a street called Rue Visconti in 1867

Although many photographic surveys of France aimed to document ancient buildings to support their preservation, the Parisian Charles Marville (born Charles François Bossu) spent much of his career documenting Paris’s alleyways and streets to advocate for their destruction. In 1862 Marville was hired as the city’s photographer by Georges-Eugène Haussmann, the official who between 1853 and 1870 famously razed the dense, medieval neighborhoods of the city and replaced them with wide boulevards and modern apartment buildings. Marville’s role was to photograph overcrowded and unsanitary conditions to support Haussmann’s sweeping reconstruction. His photographs, alongside Hausmann’s modernized city, were meant to represent a before-and-after. This image shows Rue Visconti tightly hemmed in by buildings, a feeling of enclosure enhanced by the single-point perspective and central vanishing point. Ironically, Rue Visconti was not destroyed. Today the street runs through a fashionable neighborhood of art galleries and boutiques and is popular with tourists for its human scale compared with Haussmann’s wide boulevards.

Click below to see other photographs of nineteenth-century streetscapes.

 


Tempel des Olympischen Jupiter, from Die Ruinen Athens

An image of ancient ruins known as Tempel des Olympischen Jupiter

Athens, a city of architectural and archaeological treasures, was controlled in the nineteenth century by the Ottoman Empire, which sought to profit from the European fascination with ancient Greece. Ottoman agents sold sculptural reliefs from the Parthenon — including the famous Parthenon Marbles, currently held in the British Museum in London — and carefully restricted photographic access to such sites. This image by Jakob August Lorent is one of many taken from a similar vantage point in the 1860s and 1870s: it frames the Temple of Jupiter in the foreground with the Acropolis rising at left. Similar images by French, English, and German photographers from the same period demonstrate how carefully the Ottoman government controlled how its treasures were depicted. Although the site has been mostly cleared of people, the empty tables suggest visitors might be waiting just out of frame for the photographer to finish so that they can return to sit and chat.

Click below to see other images of the monuments of ancient Egypt and Greece under the Ottoman Empire.

 


Notre-Dame de Paris compared with Caserne d’Infanterie, Blois

Notre-Dame de Paris, c. 1860 by Charles Soulier

In the mid-nineteenth century, many in France saw Gothic architecture as nothing more than the relics of a feudal and oppressive past. Victor Hugo’s 1831 novel The Hunchback of Notre Dame, however, drastically changed how the French perceived architectural heritage. Such buildings, Hugo claimed, represented the collective work of generations, a living testament to France’s history.

Following the immense success of his novel, which tells the story of the noble bell ringer of Paris’s Notre-Dame cathedral, Hugo called for the establishment of a law to protect medieval architecture in France. Though many buildings survived, decades of revolution, secularization, and bureaucratization, he argued, had stripped them of their once-noble roles in society: “Our poor churches can now but attempt to save themselves by taking up absurd disguises. Not a single Notre-Dame in France, no matter how colossal, how venerable, how magnificent, how impartial, how historical, how magisterial, does not today have a little tricouleur flag dangling from her ear. Often one can save an admirable church by writing above its entrance: ‘Town Hall.’”

Twenty years later, the National Commission on Historical Monuments, established on Hugo’s urging, sent photographers like Charles Soulier around the nation to catalogue examples of ancient and medieval architecture. Their efforts not only captured scenes of immense beauty and splendor, as in Soulier’s majestic Notre-Dame, but exposed the odd recycling of medieval architecture that Hugo had half-jokingly described. In the 1890s, the Bisson brothers’ studio took this picture of a former religious building converted into a military one. Niches that likely once held sculpted saints are empty, and a sign above the door reads: “Infantry Barracks.”

 

Click thumbnails below to switch between images.

Caserne d'Infanterie, Blois, 1890–1891 by Bisson Frères

In the mid-nineteenth century, many in France saw Gothic architecture as nothing more than the relics of a feudal and oppressive past. Victor Hugo’s 1831 novel The Hunchback of Notre Dame, however, drastically changed how the French perceived architectural heritage. Such buildings, Hugo claimed, represented the collective work of generations, a living testament to France’s history.

Following the immense success of his novel, which tells the story of the noble bell ringer of Paris’s Notre-Dame cathedral, Hugo called for the establishment of a law to protect medieval architecture in France. Though many buildings survived, decades of revolution, secularization, and bureaucratization, he argued, had stripped them of their once-noble roles in society: “Our poor churches can now but attempt to save themselves by taking up absurd disguises. Not a single Notre-Dame in France, no matter how colossal, how venerable, how magnificent, how impartial, how historical, how magisterial, does not today have a little tricouleur flag dangling from her ear. Often one can save an admirable church by writing above its entrance: ‘Town Hall.’”

Twenty years later, the National Commission on Historical Monuments, established on Hugo’s urging, sent photographers like Charles Soulier around the nation to catalogue examples of ancient and medieval architecture. Their efforts not only captured scenes of immense beauty and splendor, as in Soulier’s majestic Notre-Dame, but exposed the odd recycling of medieval architecture that Hugo had half-jokingly described. In the 1890s, the Bisson brothers’ studio took this picture of a former religious building converted into a military one. Niches that likely once held sculpted saints are empty, and a sign above the door reads: “Infantry Barracks.”

 

Click thumbnails below to switch between images.

 

 


 

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Modernity

Photography, the modern medium, became a tool to demonstrate a nation's growth and modernity.


The Maison Carrée, Nîmes

The Maison Carrée, Nîmes by Edouard Denis Baldus

Édouard Baldus's photograph of the Maison Carée a first-century CE Roman Temple in the southern French city of Nîmes was taken as part of the Mission Héliographique, France's state-sponsored program to photo-document the architectural patrimony of its nation. What began as a preservationist project of documentation quickly became one of nationalist identity formation. Using the work of photographers like Baldus, the Republic of France sought to define itself as a nation, one with a rich and storied history. Baldus's photograph not only depicts an ancient marvel but places it next to a distinctly modern one to nineteenth century eyes: the glowing gas lamp adjacent to the building's entrance. The image at once stresses France's Roman history and the civic role of the state that preserves and illuminates this history.

Click below to see other photographs documenting the architectural patrimony of France.

 


Duomo di Milano compared with 3023. Florence. Arcade of the Uffizi Gallery (Firenze. Portici degli Uffizi...)

An image depicting The Cathedral of Milan in the 19th century

Photography was critical in defining Italy’s identity as a nation. Italy did not assume its modern boundaries until the 1860s, when what had been warring duchies, kingdoms, and states were unified for the first time under King Vittorio Emanuele II. Keen to define an Italian national identity, the king commissioned photographers, including the Alinari brothers of Florence, to travel the peninsula documenting the art and architecture of the nation. Such images served twin purposes: at home, they illustrated what had once been foreign lands to the citizens of unified Italy, and distributed abroad, they advertised the history of the nation to would-be tourists.

Travel to Italy had long been popular among Europe’s upper classes, and artists from across the continent came to sketch, paint, and sculpt in the land of Leonardo and Raphael. By commissioning Italian photographers like the Alinari brothers and Giacomo Brogi, the king sought to control the image of the nation both abroad and at home. Their royal credentials granted his photographers access to otherwise-unreachable vistas like these: the roof of the Duomo of Milan, and the portico of the Uffizi gallery gazing toward Florence’s Piazza della Signoria. The images were popular not only with tourists but also among academics, particularly art historians, who favored Alinari brothers photographs in particular to illustrate books and lectures. Today the Alinari studio remains one of the largest sources of images of Italian art and architecture.

 

Click thumbnails below to switch between images.

An image depicting the Arcade of the Uffizi Gallery in the 19th century

Photography was critical in defining Italy’s identity as a nation. Italy did not assume its modern boundaries until the 1860s, when what had been warring duchies, kingdoms, and states were unified for the first time under King Vittorio Emanuele II. Keen to define an Italian national identity, the king commissioned photographers, including the Alinari brothers of Florence, to travel the peninsula documenting the art and architecture of the nation. Such images served twin purposes: at home, they illustrated what had once been foreign lands to the citizens of unified Italy, and distributed abroad, they advertised the history of the nation to would-be tourists.

Travel to Italy had long been popular among Europe’s upper classes, and artists from across the continent came to sketch, paint, and sculpt in the land of Leonardo and Raphael. By commissioning Italian photographers like the Alinari brothers and Giacomo Brogi, the king sought to control the image of the nation both abroad and at home. Their royal credentials granted his photographers access to otherwise-unreachable vistas like these: the roof of the Duomo of Milan, and the portico of the Uffizi gallery gazing toward Florence’s Piazza della Signoria. The images were popular not only with tourists but also among academics, particularly art historians, who favored Alinari brothers photographs in particular to illustrate books and lectures. Today the Alinari studio remains one of the largest sources of images of Italian art and architecture.

 

Click thumbnails below to switch between images.

Click below to see other photographs of the legacies of the Italian Renaissance.

 


Album with Photographs of England, Scotland, and India

Not all photographic portfolios were tightly curated commercial affairs. Often compiled over years by a family, rather than by a single individual, an album could represent the sweep of life, as this strange example does. Made by an unknown hand in the late nineteenth century, the album combines images of family picnics in Scotland, holidays in the Cheddar Gorge in England, scenes of the British Raj in India, and no small number of dogs. Nevertheless, its photographs similarly betray a British imperial perspective: Indian soldiers in the British Army sit at attention; English children in smocks hold tennis rackets. Unlike official or state-sanctioned images of nationhood or patrimony, this album depicts the lived experience of imperialism. Family memories from home are interspersed with formal images of distant lands and their inhabitants, all subjects of the British Crown.

Album cover with Photographs of England, Scotland, and India

Click on the button below to explore the album. The album will open in a new tab.

 

 


Panoramic View of Brousse

An image of the city of Brousse around 1893

While Ottoman governors tightly controlled how foreign artists and photographers depicted the monuments they controlled, Ottoman authorities also turned to photographers to survey and document their vast empire. In 1893, Ottoman Sultan Abdulhamid II sponsored the Pascal Sébah Studio, at that point run by Sébah’s son Jean, to produce more than fifty albums documenting landscapes and sites across the Ottoman Empire. These albums were primarily for international audiences, meant to highlight the diversity and scope of Ottoman power. The sultan often presented them to dignitaries, including US President Grover Cleveland. While this scene is distinctly Ottoman — note the gleaming white mosque at the center and the other minarets interspersed across the landscape — its title uses the French name of the city, Brousse, instead of the Bursa, as it is known in Turkish, the empire’s official language.

Click below to explore additional photographs by Pascal Sébah and his studio.

 


Gotthardbahn, Wassen compared with Via del Pò (Torino)

An image of Gotthardbahn, Wassen, 19th century

Like the Ottoman sultans, the king of Italy sought to document the growth of his new nation. In addition to recording monuments, artworks, and other historical objects of national pride, photographers were commissioned to document new civic projects, construction, and engineering feats. These two images by the German-born photographer Giorgio Sommer capture public works in the north of Italy. On the left is the Gotthardbahn, the train line that opened in 1882 and traversed the mountainous border between Switzerland and Italy. On the right are façades of the Via Po in Turin, a historical street widened in the late nineteenth century to add a tram line that served as the city’s earliest public transportation.

Photography, a medium with roots in chemistry and the sciences, provided artists like Sommer not only a means to document these feats, but an appropriate form with which to do so: the modern medium was eminently appropriate for modern subjects. Based for much of his career in Naples, Sommer’s work ranged from documenting the engineering projects funded by the king of Italy to producing detailed records of the excavations at Pompeii, where he served as an official photographer.

 

Click thumbnails below to switch between images.

An image of Via Po in Turin around 1875

Like the Ottoman sultans, the king of Italy sought to document the growth of his new nation. In addition to recording monuments, artworks, and other historical objects of national pride, photographers were commissioned to document new civic projects, construction, and engineering feats. These two images by the German-born photographer Giorgio Sommer capture public works in the north of Italy. On the left is the Gotthardbahn, the train line that opened in 1882 and traversed the mountainous border between Switzerland and Italy. On the right are façades of the Via Po in Turin, a historical street widened in the late nineteenth century to add a tram line that served as the city’s earliest public transportation.

Photography, a medium with roots in chemistry and the sciences, provided artists like Sommer not only a means to document these feats, but an appropriate form with which to do so: the modern medium was eminently appropriate for modern subjects. Based for much of his career in Naples, Sommer’s work ranged from documenting the engineering projects funded by the king of Italy to producing detailed records of the excavations at Pompeii, where he served as an official photographer.

 

Click thumbnails below to switch between images.

Click below to see other works by Giorgio Sommer.

 

 

 


 

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Mystery

Photography's techniques evoked qualities of the mysterious and the sublime, rendering them as part of the world as it truly was.


Caliphs' Tomb compared with Tomb of the Caliphs

Caliph’s Tomb, 19th century

On the first image the French photographer Félix Bonfils captured a scene of the cemetery in Cairo known as al-Qarafa (القرافة), The City of the Dead. By placing camels and Bedouins in the foreground and capturing the scene from a distance, his photograph would have you believe the domes and minarets of the al-Qarafa are part of the regular lives of these figures. In reality the cemetary belonged to the fourteenth-century Abbasid Caliphate, an empire that had not ruled in Cairo for hundreds of years. Likely sold to French tourists, the image appealed the colonialist European imagination of Egypt and the Middle East as an uncivilized land of fairy-tales and medieval legends. Bonfils's photograph carefully depicts a scene that suited the taste and, importantly, the assumptions of its audiences.

The second image, by contrast, is a depiction of the same scene by the Ottoman photographer Pascal Sébah. A citizen of the empire that controlled Cairo for much of the nineteenth century, Sébah depicted Cairo as a distinctly modernizing city. In his image the camels and Bedouins are gone and in their place are pylons and the foundations of new construction next to the City of the Dead. Both depictions are overtly poltical: Sébah's casts Cairo as the Ottoman government wanted it to be seen and Bonfils's renders Cairo as the French imagined it to be.

 

Click thumbnails below to switch between images.

Tombs of the Caliphs, Cairo, 19th century

On the first image the French photographer Félix Bonfils captured a scene of the cemetery in Cairo known as al-Qarafa (القرافة), The City of the Dead. By placing camels and Bedouins in the foreground and capturing the scene from a distance, his photograph would have you believe the domes and minarets of the al-Qarafa are part of the regular lives of these figures. In reality the cemetary belonged to the fourteenth-century Abbasid Caliphate, an empire that had not ruled in Cairo for hundreds of years. Likely sold to French tourists, the image appealed the colonialist European imagination of Egypt and the Middle East as an uncivilized land of fairy-tales and medieval legends. Bonfils's photograph carefully depicts a scene that suited the taste and, importantly, the assumptions of its audiences.

The second image, by contrast, is a depiction of the same scene by the Ottoman photographer Pascal Sébah. A citizen of the empire that controlled Cairo for much of the nineteenth century, Sébah depicted Cairo as a distinctly modernizing city. In his image the camels and Bedouins are gone and in their place are pylons and the foundations of new construction next to the City of the Dead. Both depictions are overtly poltical: Sébah's casts Cairo as the Ottoman government wanted it to be seen and Bonfils's renders Cairo as the French imagined it to be.

 

Click thumbnails below to switch between images.

Click below to see other images by Félix Bonfils or by Pascal Sébah and his studio.

 


Tintern Abbey

An image of Tintern Abbey in the 19th century

While in France many medieval monuments survived into the nineteenth century as repurposed municipal buildings, in Britain many survived only as ruins. In the sixteenth century, when King Henry VIII split from the Catholic Church, he ordered the destruction of many religious houses that dotted the British countryside, a period known as the Dissolution of the Monasteries. While former Catholic churches in urban centers — like the church of York Minster that Fox Talbot photographed — became part of the new Church of England, many rural monasteries and abbeys were destroyed or simply left to rot. In the nineteenth century, however, these ruins found new life as inspiration for Romantic poets, painters, and photographers, who saw in their sad state profound beauty, melancholy, and history. Ruined buildings like Tintern Abbey in rural Monmouthshire became popular destinations for tourists and artists. The sublime beauty of ruins became so popular in Britain that many wealthy landowners commissioned architects to design fake ruins for their estates. Capitalizing on this trend, the photographer Francis Frith documented Romantic images of ruins across Britain.

Click below to explore other photographs of architectural ruins or other photographs of rural England by Francis Frith.

 


Album of Photographs of the Holy Land

This album was prepared for Jane Stanford and subsequently gifted to a friend. Within its pages, photochrom images — hand-tinted photographs approximating color photography — depict Jerusalem and its environs. The images range from men gathered around the mouth of a small cave to olive trees overlooking stunning vistas, affording viewers a sense of both the Jerusalem of religious lore and the city as it really is. Such souvenirs belong to an ancient history of returning from religious pilgrimages with found objects or purchased trinkets; medieval European pilgrims to Jerusalem once filled flasks with holy oil and even returned with boxes of Jerusalemite soil as proof of their pilgrimages.

For medieval pilgrims, such relics were sacred because the stones upon which Christ might have walked or soil from beside the Dome of the Rock represented tangible points of contact with the Divine. Photography, with its ability to capture a scene precisely, became another kind of relic for many nineteenth-century travelers: the photographs they brought home captured the landscape exactly as their eyes had witnessed it.

Cover for the Album of Photographs of the Holy Land

Click on the button below to explore the album. The album will open in a new tab.

 

 


Ruins of a Christian Church, Island of Saye, Ethiopia compared with The Crucifixion

An image of ruins of a Christian church in the island of Saye, Ethiopia, around 1856–60

For nineteenth-century photographers, central to the beauty of a ruin was the sense of loss that it engendered in a viewer. Crumbling walls and overgrown stones — especially in the case of religious structures — imbued buildings with qualities of loss and sacrifice. Such themes are explicit in this image by the English photographer Francis Frith of three surviving columns from a Christian church in Ethiopia. Frith frames one column centrally with the others flanking it, a composition that recalls images of the Crucifixion, like this engraving by the Dutch artist Hendrick Goltzius. The columns that once supported the structure of the church become stand-ins for the Cross, the ultimate sign of loss and sacrifice in Christianity. Frith made many trips to Jerusalem and the Middle East, the vast area known as the Holy Land for its biblical associations. He eventually established a wildly successful company, Francis Frith & Co., that sold postcards illustrated with scenes from his travels.

 

Click thumbnails below to switch between images.

An engraving from 1596 depicting the crucifixion scene

For nineteenth-century photographers, central to the beauty of a ruin was the sense of loss that it engendered in a viewer. Crumbling walls and overgrown stones — especially in the case of religious structures — imbued buildings with qualities of loss and sacrifice. Such themes are explicit in this image by the English photographer Francis Frith of three surviving columns from a Christian church in Ethiopia. Frith frames one column centrally with the others flanking it, a composition that recalls images of the Crucifixion, like this engraving by the Dutch artist Hendrick Goltzius. The columns that once supported the structure of the church become stand-ins for the Cross, the ultimate sign of loss and sacrifice in Christianity. Frith made many trips to Jerusalem and the Middle East, the vast area known as the Holy Land for its biblical associations. He eventually established a wildly successful company, Francis Frith & Co., that sold postcards illustrated with scenes from his travels.

 

Click thumbnails below to switch between images.

Click below to explore other photographs of Francis Frith abroad.

 

 


Rouen Cathedral, Interior

Rouen Cathedral, Interior, c. 1860 by Bisson Frères

Like Édouard Baldus’s photograph of the Maison Carrée, this image of the interior of Rouen Cathedral was made as part of the Mission Héliographique. But while Baldus pairs a historical monument with a modern oil lamp, the Bisson brothers highlight the age and mystique of their subject. The work is a salt print, a slow and deliberate photographic process that requires a particularly long exposure time. By exposing the photographic negative to light for a longer period, the process captures a sense of light changing over time. As a result of this technical process, the apse and altar of Rouen Cathedral seem ghostly, washed in a hazy, celestial, almost divine light.

Click below to see other salt prints.

 

 

 


 

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Travel

In depicting distant lands, photography reflected the expectations and biases of its viewers.


Ascent of the Great Pyramid of Cheops

An image of the Ascent of the Great Pyramid of Cheops

Félix Bonfils, French-born and Beirut-based, likely intended this image of four men climbing the Great Pyramid of Cheops in Giza as a portrait of adventure. Shot from close up and tightly cropped, we have no sense of how high the men have climbed — how close they might be to the top of one of the Seven Wonders of the World. To modern eyes, however, the image looks drastically different. The three men in robes that mark them as African struggle to help a single white man in a suit. Two push — one with a hand planted firmly on the man’s buttocks — while one pulls. The fourth sits above as though he’s given up. What likely read as exciting to nineteenth-century European viewers today looks very much like the futile struggle of one colonist who can’t even manage to be helped up the side of the pyramid.

Click below to explore other examples of Orientalist artwork in the Cantor’s collection.

 


Views of France, Algeria, and Italy

The themes of nationalism and colonialism — building a nation at home and expanding it abroad — were not separate or distinct in nineteenth-century photography. Often a single image or a portfolio of photographs could encompass both, as exemplified by the portfolio by a number of French and Italian photographers entitled Views of France, Algeria, and Italy. The portfolio, which contains nineteen images taken between 1875 and 1890, collapses the experience of a tour of the Mediterranean into a volume small enough to display at a dinner party. Through its images a viewer visits the ruins of Pompeii, sees the artistic marvels of the Vatican (with reproductions of a scene of the martyrdom of Saint Sebastian by the painter Guido Reni and the famed classical sculpture of the Trojan Laocoön and his sons writhing beneath the bodies of sea serpents), and bounces between sun-drenched French cityscapes and romanticized ruins in Algeria.

An album with views of Algeria, France and Italy

Click on the button below to explore the album. The album will open in a new tab.

 

 


Panoramic View of Gibraltar

 

 

 

 

 

 

Panoramic View of Gibraltar around 1859

Although the cost of printing and publishing high-quality images remained high throughout the nineteenth century, it was still far more affordable than travel. Photography afforded many the ability to see otherwise-unreachable sights and landscapes. Portfolios and bound volumes of photographs allowed for armchair voyages: trips around the world from the comfort of one’s own home. Works like this panorama, here combined digitally for the first time to reconstruct the scene as the photographer would have seen it, offered views tinged with nationalism and pride. Originally printed as ten separate images and published in a bound portfolio, it depicts the British Overseas Territory of Gibraltar, a minute peninsula on Spain’s southern coast. For audiences in Leeds or Liverpool, this panorama offered both a vision of the tropical Mediterranean and a glimpse of their nation’s imperial holdings.

 

Click thumbnails below to switch between images.

Panoramic View of Gibraltar around 1859

Although the cost of printing and publishing high-quality images remained high throughout the nineteenth century, it was still far more affordable than travel. Photography afforded many the ability to see otherwise-unreachable sights and landscapes. Portfolios and bound volumes of photographs allowed for armchair voyages: trips around the world from the comfort of one’s own home. Works like this panorama, here combined digitally for the first time to reconstruct the scene as the photographer would have seen it, offered views tinged with nationalism and pride. Originally printed as ten separate images and published in a bound portfolio, it depicts the British Overseas Territory of Gibraltar, a minute peninsula on Spain’s southern coast. For audiences in Leeds or Liverpool, this panorama offered both a vision of the tropical Mediterranean and a glimpse of their nation’s imperial holdings.

 

Click thumbnails below to switch between images.

Panoramic View of Gibraltar around 1859

Although the cost of printing and publishing high-quality images remained high throughout the nineteenth century, it was still far more affordable than travel. Photography afforded many the ability to see otherwise-unreachable sights and landscapes. Portfolios and bound volumes of photographs allowed for armchair voyages: trips around the world from the comfort of one’s own home. Works like this panorama, here combined digitally for the first time to reconstruct the scene as the photographer would have seen it, offered views tinged with nationalism and pride. Originally printed as ten separate images and published in a bound portfolio, it depicts the British Overseas Territory of Gibraltar, a minute peninsula on Spain’s southern coast. For audiences in Leeds or Liverpool, this panorama offered both a vision of the tropical Mediterranean and a glimpse of their nation’s imperial holdings.

 

Click thumbnails below to switch between images.

Panoramic View of Gibraltar around 1859

Although the cost of printing and publishing high-quality images remained high throughout the nineteenth century, it was still far more affordable than travel. Photography afforded many the ability to see otherwise-unreachable sights and landscapes. Portfolios and bound volumes of photographs allowed for armchair voyages: trips around the world from the comfort of one’s own home. Works like this panorama, here combined digitally for the first time to reconstruct the scene as the photographer would have seen it, offered views tinged with nationalism and pride. Originally printed as ten separate images and published in a bound portfolio, it depicts the British Overseas Territory of Gibraltar, a minute peninsula on Spain’s southern coast. For audiences in Leeds or Liverpool, this panorama offered both a vision of the tropical Mediterranean and a glimpse of their nation’s imperial holdings.

 

Click thumbnails below to switch between images.

Panoramic View of Gibraltar around 1859

Although the cost of printing and publishing high-quality images remained high throughout the nineteenth century, it was still far more affordable than travel. Photography afforded many the ability to see otherwise-unreachable sights and landscapes. Portfolios and bound volumes of photographs allowed for armchair voyages: trips around the world from the comfort of one’s own home. Works like this panorama, here combined digitally for the first time to reconstruct the scene as the photographer would have seen it, offered views tinged with nationalism and pride. Originally printed as ten separate images and published in a bound portfolio, it depicts the British Overseas Territory of Gibraltar, a minute peninsula on Spain’s southern coast. For audiences in Leeds or Liverpool, this panorama offered both a vision of the tropical Mediterranean and a glimpse of their nation’s imperial holdings.

 

Click thumbnails below to switch between images.

Panoramic View of Gibraltar around 1859

Although the cost of printing and publishing high-quality images remained high throughout the nineteenth century, it was still far more affordable than travel. Photography afforded many the ability to see otherwise-unreachable sights and landscapes. Portfolios and bound volumes of photographs allowed for armchair voyages: trips around the world from the comfort of one’s own home. Works like this panorama, here combined digitally for the first time to reconstruct the scene as the photographer would have seen it, offered views tinged with nationalism and pride. Originally printed as ten separate images and published in a bound portfolio, it depicts the British Overseas Territory of Gibraltar, a minute peninsula on Spain’s southern coast. For audiences in Leeds or Liverpool, this panorama offered both a vision of the tropical Mediterranean and a glimpse of their nation’s imperial holdings.

 

Click thumbnails below to switch between images.

Panoramic View of Gibraltar around 1859

Although the cost of printing and publishing high-quality images remained high throughout the nineteenth century, it was still far more affordable than travel. Photography afforded many the ability to see otherwise-unreachable sights and landscapes. Portfolios and bound volumes of photographs allowed for armchair voyages: trips around the world from the comfort of one’s own home. Works like this panorama, here combined digitally for the first time to reconstruct the scene as the photographer would have seen it, offered views tinged with nationalism and pride. Originally printed as ten separate images and published in a bound portfolio, it depicts the British Overseas Territory of Gibraltar, a minute peninsula on Spain’s southern coast. For audiences in Leeds or Liverpool, this panorama offered both a vision of the tropical Mediterranean and a glimpse of their nation’s imperial holdings.

 

Click thumbnails below to switch between images.

Panoramic View of Gibraltar around 1859

Although the cost of printing and publishing high-quality images remained high throughout the nineteenth century, it was still far more affordable than travel. Photography afforded many the ability to see otherwise-unreachable sights and landscapes. Portfolios and bound volumes of photographs allowed for armchair voyages: trips around the world from the comfort of one’s own home. Works like this panorama, here combined digitally for the first time to reconstruct the scene as the photographer would have seen it, offered views tinged with nationalism and pride. Originally printed as ten separate images and published in a bound portfolio, it depicts the British Overseas Territory of Gibraltar, a minute peninsula on Spain’s southern coast. For audiences in Leeds or Liverpool, this panorama offered both a vision of the tropical Mediterranean and a glimpse of their nation’s imperial holdings.

 

Click thumbnails below to switch between images.

Panoramic View of Gibraltar around 1859

Although the cost of printing and publishing high-quality images remained high throughout the nineteenth century, it was still far more affordable than travel. Photography afforded many the ability to see otherwise-unreachable sights and landscapes. Portfolios and bound volumes of photographs allowed for armchair voyages: trips around the world from the comfort of one’s own home. Works like this panorama, here combined digitally for the first time to reconstruct the scene as the photographer would have seen it, offered views tinged with nationalism and pride. Originally printed as ten separate images and published in a bound portfolio, it depicts the British Overseas Territory of Gibraltar, a minute peninsula on Spain’s southern coast. For audiences in Leeds or Liverpool, this panorama offered both a vision of the tropical Mediterranean and a glimpse of their nation’s imperial holdings.

 

Click thumbnails below to switch between images.

Panoramic View of Gibraltar around 1859

Although the cost of printing and publishing high-quality images remained high throughout the nineteenth century, it was still far more affordable than travel. Photography afforded many the ability to see otherwise-unreachable sights and landscapes. Portfolios and bound volumes of photographs allowed for armchair voyages: trips around the world from the comfort of one’s own home. Works like this panorama, here combined digitally for the first time to reconstruct the scene as the photographer would have seen it, offered views tinged with nationalism and pride. Originally printed as ten separate images and published in a bound portfolio, it depicts the British Overseas Territory of Gibraltar, a minute peninsula on Spain’s southern coast. For audiences in Leeds or Liverpool, this panorama offered both a vision of the tropical Mediterranean and a glimpse of their nation’s imperial holdings.

 

Click thumbnails below to switch between images.


Medinet-Abou

An image depicting Medinet-Abou, the funerary complex built for Pharaoh Ramesses III in the 1160s BCE

Armenian-born Gabriel Lekegian served as an official photographer for the British Army in Egypt. He documented military parades, surveyed landscapes, and accompanied archaeological expeditions. This image depicts the Medinet Habu (مدينة هابو), the funerary complex built for Pharaoh Ramesses III in the 1160s BCE and excavated beginning in the 1850s CE. With only a single standing figure for scale, the immense temple structure fills Lekegian’s image, the central open doorway revealing only further doorways within. The photograph appears to detail an incredible archaeological find: a largely intact Egyptian tomb complex.

Yet Lekegian’s photograph, and the site that it depicts, are the result of drastic editing. For centuries the structure had been occupied, and worshippers had even built a church into its walls. British forces, interested only in what they perceived as pure ancient Egyptian history, evicted the actual Egyptians who lived in the Medinet Habu complex and destroyed whatever they had built there. Lekegian’s picture conceals this building and subsequent destruction, presenting only the “immaculate,” “restored,” “authentic” site.

Click below to see other images of monuments of ancient Egypt and Greece.

 

 

 


 

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Museum Hours

The Cantor is open to the public at 25% capacity. Free timed tickets are required for all visitors, including members. Get yours here.

You can also explore Stanford art museums from the comfort of your home in Museums From Home.

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Map and Directions

The Cantor Arts Center is located at the intersection of Museum Way and Lomita Drive in the heart of the arts district on the Stanford campus. The Cantor faces the Bing Concert Hall across Palm Drive, northwest of The Oval and the Main Quad.

328 Lomita Drive at Museum Way
Stanford, CA 94305-5060

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Parking

Parking is limited. Stanford has a new contactless web/app system to pay for parking. Prior to your visit, we recommend you visit the Stanford Transportation website to learn more about the new visitor parking process.

Parking Rates and Map
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