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Girault de Prangey turned his attention and his camera toward the classical civilizations of Italy and Greece in 1842. At the age of 38, he was already a well-travelled and accomplished artist, having spent four years travelling in Barbaria (Tunisia), Sicily and Spain. He had put his artistry to good use producing a large body of detailed drawings and paintings. He is also known to have been a pioneer of the new process of lithography. Like Washington Irving before him he had written on the history of Moorish Spain, inspiring numerous other travellers to follow his trail. When he arrived in Italy it was therefore with the eye of a seasoned artist, coupled with an erudite knowledge. Here he added the still new daguerreotype process to his existing skills of drawing and painting.
In Italy, he naturally photographed mostly in Rome, but ventured outside the city to study as well at Bracciano, Frascati, Tivoli, Toscanella (Tuscania), Castel d'Asso, Genoa and Corneto. It appears he had visited at least Venice and Rome before, as a drawing exists of St. Peter's, Rome and a painting, signed and dated 1831, shows St. Mark's Square in Venice.1 It seems that he did not return to Venice in 1842, at least no daguerreotypes from Venice have been recorded.
Italy had, of course, attracted photographers soon after the invention was announced. A daguerreotype view of Rome showing St. Peter's Church and the Castel Sant' Angelo, in the collection of George Eastman House, corresponds closely to the engraving from a daguerreotype published by Lerebours in Excursions daguerriennes. Intriguingly, it has been labelled "the first photograph (of Rome)"2. If it is the source of the engraving, which seems likely, it quite probably deserves this credit.
Alexander Ellis (1814-90), an English gentleman, visited Italy in 1841, arriving at Pozzuoli on 21 May. He photographed in Naples, Pompeii, Rome, Assisi, Pisa, Florence and Venice. In Rome he collaborated with two Italian photographers, Achille Morelli and Lorenzo Suscipi, and acquired examples of their work, some dating from 1840. The collection Ellis formed, comprising 159 daguerreotypes, is now in the National Museum of Photography, Film & Television, Bradford, England.
The daguerreotypes in lots 5 - 10, made in Italy by Girault de Prangey during a three-month period in 1842, include oft-described classical monuments, photographed in an extraordinary way. Equally rare are the more fleeting or intimate subjects such as the cypress trees at Tivoli or the little Etruscan lion, subjects which might at the time be considered of lesser importance, but which appealed to the idiosyncratic eye of the photographer.
1 Reproduced in Quettier, P. et al., Girault de Prangey 1804-1892, pp. 52 and 55
2 Reproduced and discussed in Buerger, J. French Daguerreotypes, pp. 33-35
See: Dennis, George, Chapter XXIII "Toscanella" in The Cities and Cemeteries of Etruria, London: John Murray, 1848