The annotation translated in English reads '[...] Slice/14 May (...) enlarged/With the dag. Hydrogen Cold Light [...]/in 5 Minutes/Vienna 4. March 1840 A.v. Ettingshausen'.
Andreas Ritter von Ettingshausen (1796-1878), although an unfamiliar name in English language histories of photography, was the central figure in the introduction of the daguerreotype invention to Austria and a seminal force in the development and practical application of photography. Appointed to a full professorship in mathematics at the University of Vienna at the age of twenty-five, he became an internationally recognized physicist, educator and promoter of scientific progress in the 1830s. Alexander von Humbolt wrote of him to Carl Friedrich Gauss, in 1841, "I, being the most ignorant and the weakest have the right …to warmly recommend to you urgently an excellent mathematical physician Herr von Ettingshausen in Vienna, closely involved with Prince Metternich and his family but whom, nevertheless, has managed to pursue his scientific career." 1
Upon Prince Metternich's learning of the news of the invention of the daguerreotype in January of 1839, he became avidly interested in the discovery and established communications with Daguerre. Ettingshausen, as official Austrian representative, was invited to attend the official disclosure of the working details of the process in Paris by D.F. Arago on August 19, 1839. Ettingshausen sought leave from Prince Metternich to remain in Paris to receive lessons from Daguerre before returning to Austria to give report. On September 22, the Austrian Ambassador, Count Apponyi, wrote to Prince Metternich, " Professor Ettingshausen is actively involved in acquiring the art of perfecting techniques of these "Lichtbilder", which is not an easy task. Daguerre is helping him with the greatest of kindness, sharing his skill and knowledge. Ettingshausen is making good progress and should be quite at ease in handling the machine when it arrives at Johannisberg - he looks forward to this event with pride and joy."2
Ettingshausen, upon his return to Austria in October, immediately commenced making daguerreotypes for Prince Metternich in Castle Johannisberg. Examples of these daguerreotypes were exhibited in Vienna on November 22 at the University of Vienna and caused much excitement. One of these "depicting a woman" was sent by Prince Metternich to Alexander von Humbolt. Thus, through Ettingshausen, the Viennese scientific community was introduced to the daguerreotype, leading to the development of that city as the center of photography for the German speaking world. He was a very active member of a circle of men interested in the daguerreotype, which included such figures as Plossl, Voigtlander, Berres, Martin, Kratochwilla, the Natterer brothers and Petzval. It was Ettingshausen who directly led Petzval to the development of the famous lens manufactured by Voigtlander, which reduced exposure time and made portrait photography truly practical. The first public lectures on the Petzval lens were given by Ettingshausen in Vienna in November and December 1841. He continued to be intensely interested in the progress of photography and optics, writing often on these subjects during the 1840s. His career as an educator spanned 49 years. For his exceptional service to the state and science, he received many official honors from the Austrian court.
The history of microphotography has not yet received sufficient attention by historians of photography. There is ample reason to claim that the microscope, particularly the solar projecting microscope, was as central to the development of photography as was the camera obscura. All of the major figures associated with the inv;ntion …Wedgewood, Niépce, Daguerre and Talbot …employed it in the;" experiments. Arago spoke of the possibilities of mic;"photography in his report to the Chamber of Deputies in 1839. Once t;" practical details of the daguerreotype were given out, many op;icians and scientists ";vestigated "he daguerreotypes use in microphotography. Daguerre made enlarged images of a spider.3 Alfred Donne made one of the eye of a fly and presented it in October 1839 at the Academy of Sciences in Paris. Chevalier improved the solar microscope for photographic ;urposes and showed microphotograph daguerreotypes in 1840. J. B. Reade, Berres, Dancer, Duboscq, Draper and Foucault all concerned themselves with perfecting and applying microphotography during the era of the daguerreotype.
The possibilities of using artificial light, particularly electric light, were contemplated by many early experimenters. The earliest surviving example of successful achievement is Ettingshausen's daguerreotype of a cross section of a Clematis plant, made by "hydrogen cold light", in five minutes of exposure, in Vienna, on March 4, 1840. Josef Berres is reported to have made a micrograph daguerreotype of a cross section of a plant in 1840 by Drummond's calcium light and may have done so in collaboration with, or response to Ettingshausen's achievement.
Very few daguerreotype microphotographs exist today. This survival is the earliest of the very first successful achievements of microphotography. It is in remarkably fine condition for an ungilded daguerreotype of such an early date. The large plate, presented in its original frame, has a strong, striking and symbolically suggestive image. Despite our familiarity with microphotography produced in abundance since it's making, this daguerreotype is still a marvel. A direct relic and wondrous achievement of the first days of response to the invention which transformed the world, it is incomparably precious and important to both present and future understandings of the history of photography, science and technology.
By Grant Romer, Director, Advanced Residency Program in Photographic Conservation at George Eastman House, Rochester, NY.
1 A. von Humboldt, (natural scientist), letter to C. Friedrich Gauss in Berlin (physicist and mathematician), 24 June 1840, cited in A. Auer, 'Andreas Ritter von Ettingshausen (1796-1878)', History of Photography, Vol.17, No.1, Spring 1993, p.118.
2 A. Auer, p.119.
3 H. & A. Gernsheim, L. J.M. Daguerre, The History of the Diorama and the Daguerreotype, New York, 1968, p.194.
J.M. Eder, History of Photography; New York, 1945.
H. & A. Gernsheim, The History of Photography, London, 1955.