Monument to the Burghers of Calais

Jean Limet (1855 -1941)

Circa 1904

Bichromated-gelatin print

H. 28.5 cm ; W. 39.1 cm


In 1895, the Monument to the Burghers of Calais  was unveiled in their home city. Circa 1904, the sculptor asked Jean Limet, a painter by trade who had become the appointed patinator of his bronzes, to photograph the group : “very low, to let the public penetrate the heart of the subject, as in church entombments, where the group is almost on ground level.”


Limet photographed the Burghers from behind, to create the illusion of a procession, in keeping with the contemporary trend away from realistic photography towards an Impressionistic vision. The new theories of the Pictorialist school defended personal interpretation and participation. From then on, the photographer was regarded as an artist in his own right. The graininess of the bichromated-gelatin print and the radiographic effects that Limet obtained enabled him to dematerialize the contours and introduce colour into the sculpture. To tone his photographs, he used almost the same products as those he employed for his patinas. He thus obtained multiple variations in tone that contribute to the impact of these photographs of the Burghers walking to their death like an army of ghosts.

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