Antonio Beato, “View of the Temple at Luxor”

by Marisa Zemesarajs ’15

Antonio Beato. “View of the Temple at Luxor”.
Late 19th Century. Albumen Print.
Gift of William Howard Doane. DU1991.18.
Denison Museum Collection

Let’s travel back to 1826, looking at Joseph Nicéphore Niépce’s “View from the Window at Le Gras.” 1826, where an 8-hour exposure time would give birth to a grainy, unfocused, heliographic image; quite the contrast to today, where Instagram and other photo-sharing applications alike allow for us to take beautiful photographs in milliseconds, inherently spoiling our appreciation of what a photograph really is- a frozen frame in time. Now of course I have lain before you two extremes, inserting a bit of bias along the way, so let’s meet in the middle, looking at a photograph that is currently on display at our very own, Denison Museum: “View of the Temple at Luxor,” taken by Italian (or at least we think he’s Italian) photographer, Antonio Beato.

Very little is known of Beato, including the exact date in which this photograph was taken, although we infer that it was between 1860 and 1890. This air of mystery in the artist’s biographical life is even further extended into the piece itself. Whether looked at as a symbol of prosperity or decay, there is something undeniably romantic about the complex at Luxor, perhaps it is the feeling that something great was interrupted; a sentiment captured perfectly by Beato. The romantic lighting paired with the use of atmospheric perspective, lend to the notion that there is more to be discovered, and that while Luxor has long passed it’s days of vibrant youth, it has gained something much more lasting- what that is, however; is up for the viewer to decide!

Much of Antonio Beato’s collection is archived in the Cairo Museum-so how exactly were we lucky enough to snag this piece? Denison Museum’s Beato photographs were donated by Mr. William Howard Doane of Cincinnati, Ohio in 1891, after he acquired the photographs while on a trip to Europe. These particular photos spent over 100 years in storage in the library before coming to the museum in 1991. I am certainly grateful to have this piece (metaphorically) in my arm’s reach, as I find the romantic mystery of the ruins one that is not easily replicated. Today, photographs are continually taken and deleted; taken and edited; taken and uploaded; and while we have probably shared hundreds of images with the world, there are only a handful that we hold dear- that represent the essence of our lives at a given moment in time.

This work was exhibited as part of “The Tourist View: Grand Tours to Tramps Abroad” at the Denison Museum in 2006. Curated by Dr. Joy Sperling and Dr. Jacqueline Marie Musacchio.

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