Sycamore Fig Leaves, 1924–25 season
Harry Burton (English, 1879–1940)
The Egyptian Expedition of The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Gelatin silver print; 4 7/8 x 6 7/8 in. (12.4 x 17.5 cm)
Burton's photographs of the fragile floral offerings found in the Theban necropolis are among the most poignant images in the archives. This offering of sycamore fig leaves was left in a tomb more than 3,000 years ago.
From Henry Talbot and Anna Atkins at the very beginning of photography through Karl Blossfeldt, Ernst Fuhrmann, and Albert Renger-Patzsch in the 1920s and '30s, photographers adapted the style of printed botanical illustrations to the capacities of the new medium—setting their specimens against a neutral background and laying them on the page as if still growing. Burton, too, has followed this strategy, giving the impression that these leaves had perhaps been plucked from a tree just a wilting hour or so before. Instead, of course, more than thirty centuries had passed, and the survival of these sycamore fig leaves seems no less miraculous than that of the carefully embalmed body for whom they were placed as a final offering.