Saturday, March 21, 2009

Daguerre paints

Louis-Jacques-Mandé Daguerre, Interior of the Chapel of Saint-Philippe in the Eglise des Feuillants in Paris, 1814

This is a poor reproduction of a striking painting by Daguerre. Who knew he painted as well as invented photography! That said, this painting is all about photography. In the flesh, the painting is also very dark. The light from the window above the door streams into the chapel, and even though it creates a chiaroscuro as it falls on the right hand wall, somehow, it manages to delicately illuminate the whole chapel. The painting has little to do with a rendition of the chapel, and everything to do with the camera obscura effect of the light coming into the darkened interior to create an image on its walls. If it were not for the title, the interior space might as well be a high-ceilinged stable or hall; there is nothing ecclesiastical about it. Even though we can see the outline of paintings on the arched ceiling especially, they are not the focus of the painting. And the curious architectural form of the space also appears to be in the service of the magical illumination through what is presumably the east window. This is a painting about the representation of light as it enters the dark interior - all in preparation for an invention Daguerre was clearly mulling over in 1814.

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