Image of Gallery in South Kensington
On display at V&A South Kensington
Request to view at the Prints & Drawings Study Room, level F , Case X, Shelf 311, Box A

A Study of the Cenci

Photograph
1870 (photographed), c. 1884 (printed)
Artist/Maker
Place Of Origin

In late 1865 Julia Margaret Cameron began using a larger camera, which held a 15 x 12-inch glass negative. Early the next year she wrote to Henry Cole with great enthusiasm – but little modesty – about the new turn she had taken in her work.

Cameron initiated a series of large-scale, close-up heads. These fulfilled her photographic vision, a rejection of ‘mere conventional topographic photography – map-making and skeleton rendering of feature and form’ in favour of a less precise but more emotionally penetrating form of portraiture. Cameron also continued to make narrative and allegorical tableaux, which were larger and bolder than her previous efforts.

Cameron based the pose, drapery, and sad expression of her model on a painting attributed to Guido Reni. The subject is the 16th-century Italian noblewoman Beatrice Cenci who was executed for arranging the murder of her abusive father. One review admired Cameron’s soft rendering of ‘the pensive sweetness of the expression of the original picture’ while another mocked her for claiming to have photographed a historical figure ‘from the life’.



object details
Categories
Object Type
Materials and Techniques
Collotype
Brief Description
Photograph by Julia Margaret Cameron, 'A Study of the Cenci' (sitter May Prinsep), collotype, 1870, printed later but probably before 1884
Physical Description
Portrait of a woman (May Prinsep)with long brown hair wearing a white cloth as a turban.
Dimensions
  • Image height: 30.3cm
  • Imege width: 23.4cm
  • Mount height: 44.5cm
  • Mount width: 31.2cm
Style
Credit line
Nevinson Bequest, 1990
Object history
Julia Margaret Cameron's career as a photographer began in 1863 when her daughter gave her a camera. Cameron began photographing everyone in sight. Because of the newness of photography as a practice, she was free to make her own rules and not be bound to convention. The kinds of images being made at the time did not interest Cameron. She was interested in capturing another kind of photographic truth. Not one dependent on accuracy of sharp detail, but one that depicted the emotional state of her sitter.



Cameron liked the soft focus portraits and the streak marks on her negatives, choosing to work with these irregularities, making them part of her pictures. Although at the time Cameron was seen as an unconventional and experimental photographer, her images have a solid place in the history of photography.



Most of Cameron's photographs are portraits. She used members of her family as sitters and made photographs than concentrated on their faces. She was interested in conveying their natural beauty, often asking female sitters to let down their hair so as to show them in a way that they were not accustomed to presenting themselves. In addition to making stunning and evocative portraits both of male and female subjects, Cameron also staged tableaux and posed her sitters in situations that simulated allegorical paintings.

Production
As the inscription visible on E.2746-1990 and E.2749-1990 indicate, this collotype was made from internegatives (negatives made from rephotographing prints)
Subjects depicted
Literary ReferencePercy Bysshe Ahelley's 1819 play 'The Cenci' was based on the true story of Beatrice Cenci, a sixteenth-century Roman woman who plotted the death of her tyrannical father because of his abuse of her. She and her co-conspirators were caught and executed in 1599.
Summary
In late 1865 Julia Margaret Cameron began using a larger camera, which held a 15 x 12-inch glass negative. Early the next year she wrote to Henry Cole with great enthusiasm – but little modesty – about the new turn she had taken in her work.



Cameron initiated a series of large-scale, close-up heads. These fulfilled her photographic vision, a rejection of ‘mere conventional topographic photography – map-making and skeleton rendering of feature and form’ in favour of a less precise but more emotionally penetrating form of portraiture. Cameron also continued to make narrative and allegorical tableaux, which were larger and bolder than her previous efforts.



Cameron based the pose, drapery, and sad expression of her model on a painting attributed to Guido Reni. The subject is the 16th-century Italian noblewoman Beatrice Cenci who was executed for arranging the murder of her abusive father. One review admired Cameron’s soft rendering of ‘the pensive sweetness of the expression of the original picture’ while another mocked her for claiming to have photographed a historical figure ‘from the life’.



Associated Object
30-1939 (Version)
Bibliographic References
  • Julian Cox and Colin Ford, et al. Julia Margaret Cameron: the complete photographs. London : Thames and Hudson, 2003. Cat. no. 409, p. 246.
  • Series: Mike Weaver, Julia Margaret Cameron, University of Southampton and The Herbert Press, 1984
  • Cox, Julian and Colin Ford, with contributions by Joanne Lukitsh and Philippa Wright. Julia Margaret Cameron: The Complete Photographs. London: Thames & Hudson, in association with The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles and The National Museum of Photography, Film & Television, Bradford, 2003. ISBN: 0-500-54265-1Cat. no.409, p. 246
  • Victoria and Albert Museum Department of Prints, Drawings and Paintings Accession Register for 1990
Collection
Accession Number
E.2750-1990

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record createdNovember 22, 2006
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