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February 19, 2014

The Oldest Panoramas of Constantinople and Damascus, ca. 1843

Until recently, pioneering daguerreotypist Joseph-Philibert Girault de Prangey was unknown in the world of fine-art photography. His extraordinary images were discovered in a storeroom of his estate in the 1920s and only made known some eighty years later.

Girault de Prangey studied painting at the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris and learned daguerreotypy in 1841, the same year inventor Louis-Jacques-Mandé Daguerre publicly demonstrated the process. Girault de Prangey may have learned photography from Daguerre himself, or from Hippolyte Bayard, with whom he shared a mutual artist friend.

Aside from his creative interests, Girault de Prangey was an avid student of Ancient Near East architecture and in 1842 embarked on a three-year tour of Italy, Greece, Egypt, Turkey, Syria, and Palestine. He carried hundreds of pounds of photography equipment and made more than 800 daguerreotypes. His pictures of the Acropolis are the earliest surviving photographs of the famous site.

After returning to his home in Langres, France, Girault de Prangey made watercolor and pen-and-ink studies after his photographs and created a small-edition publication of lithographs from them. He also made stereographs of his estate and the exotic plants he collected. Girault de Prangey was apparently quite proud of his Near East photographs but did not exhibit or otherwise make them known before his death in 1892.

Constantinople, 1843

Damascus, 1843

(Photos by Joseph-Philibert Girault de Prangey)


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