[Large Figures on the North Porch, Chartres Cathedral]

Artist: Henri-Jean-Louis Le Secq (French, Paris 1818–1882 Paris)

Date: 1852

Medium: Salted paper print from paper negative

Dimensions: 32.8 x 22.1 cm (12 15/16 x 8 11/16 in.)

Classification: Photographs

Credit Line: Purchase, The Howard Gilman Foundation and Harriette and Noel Levine Gifts, Samuel J. Wagstaff Jr. Bequest, and Rogers Fund, 1990

Accession Number: 1990.1130


Seen obliquely from the eye level of a cathedral visitor, the portal sculptures in Henri Le Secq's photograph appear disengaged from their stone support. The figures' corporeality is animated by sharp focus and by their position between shadowed columns and a blur of moving foliage. Le Secq's inspired photography of French cathedrals won critical praise and government support, because he demonstrated the new medium's capacity to provide detailed and accurate records. This photograph, made in 1852, is also an eloquent poem about the passage of time and the life of art, ideas resonant in an age that clung to Romantic notions of the fragment even as it embarked on archaeological investigation and restoration. This melding of the objective and the personal in architectural photography made Henri Le Secq a central figure in the small group of French photographers who pioneered the aesthetics of the new medium.