Two Head-Dresses, gilt metal, Wallachian, 18th Century

Photograph
1868 (photographed)
Two Head-Dresses, gilt metal, Wallachian, 18th Century thumbnail 1
Two Head-Dresses, gilt metal, Wallachian, 18th Century thumbnail 2
+10
images
Image of Gallery in South Kensington
On display at V&A South Kensington
National Art Library
Artist/Maker
Place Of Origin

Photographs and photographers were present from the very beginning of the V&A's history and the Museum has an extensive collection of images from the 1850s through to the present which documents objects in the V&A collection, loan objects, topographical views, examples of design and architecture, and the construction and development of the V&A and the South Kensington site.

Originally collected by the National Art Library as part of a programme to record works of art, architecture and design in the interest of public education, these photographs were valued as records and as source material for students. As well as being crucial records of the history of the South Kensington Museum (now the V&A), and an important element within the National Art Library's visual encyclopaedia, these photographs are also significant artefacts in the history of the art of photography.

Isabel Agnes Cowper (1826-1911) worked as the the South Kensington Museum's Official Museum Photographer from 1868 until her retirement in 1891. The daughter of renowned engraver, John Thompson, she originally trained as a wood engraver, engraving illustrations for volumes by John Ruskin and Henry Cole, the V&A's first Director. Examples of her engraving work entered the V&A collection some time in the late 19th century.

In 1868, Cowper, a widow, took on the role of Official Museum Photographer upon the death of her brother, Charles Thurston Thompson, the South Kensington Musem's first Official Museum Photographer. It is likely that Thurston Thompson passed on to Cowper his knowledge of photography. She would have also been exposed to the medium through her husband, Charles Cowper, who held various photographic patents in his name. Recent research confirms that there are thousands of photographs by Cowper in the collection.

The plates in this album are examples of some of the first recorded photographs taken by Cowper. The photographed objects came to the Museum in December 1867 as part of a loan display and remained on view for six months. The negatives were registered in the Museum ledger on April 1868, and many of the negatives that survive have Cowper's signature etched into collodion emulsion.

Around the time these photographs were taken, the Department of Science and Art, which administered the Library, entered into a publishing agreement with the Arundel Society. This volume is one of the earliest produced as part of the collaboration between the Department and the Arundel Society. The accompanying text in the volume fails to identify Cowper as the photographer. This is noteworthy as an earlier volume from this series featuring photographs made by her brother, Thurston Thompson, clearly identifies him as the photographer.

Cowper lived and worked at the Museum with her four children and another brother, Richard Thompson, the South Kensington Museum Assistant Director, in accomodations reserved for senior staff. Up until recently, little was known of Cowper but ongoing research has reavealed that she played an important role in the early history of the V&A and the Museum's early uptake of photography to document the arts.


object details
Categories
Object Type
Additional Titles
  • The Treasure of Petrossa and other Goldsmith's Work from Roumania: A Series of Twenty Photographs of Ancient Gold Velles, Fibule, Neck-rings, etc. found near Petrossa in Roumania in 1837 and shown in the "History of Labour" section of the Paris Universal Exhibition of 1867, and examples of Goldsmith's Art in Roumania' (published title)
  • Examples of Art Workmanship of Various Ages and Countries (series title)
Materials and Techniques
albumen print
Brief Description
Photograph by Isabel Agnes Cowper, 'Two Head-Dresses, gilt metal, Wallachian, 18th Century', albumen print, 1868, from the album The Treasure of Petrossa and other Goldsmith's Work from Roumania, published by the Arundel Society, London, 1869
Physical Description
A sepia-coloured photograph bound in an album of two chains strung with discs and crescent shaped charms. A printed label is affixed to the bottom of the page.
Marks and Inscriptions
'ROUMANIAN GOLDSMITH'S WORK. / No. 20. TWO HEAD-DRESSES, GILT METAL. / wALLACHIAN, 18th Century.' (printed label, bottom of album page)
Object history
This album of photographs includes gold and jewelled objects owned by the Romanian Government and displayed in the 'Histoire de Travail' section of the Paris Universal Exhibition, 1867. In December 1867 the objects arrived as part of a loan display at the South Kensington Museum, where they were photographed.



The album consists of twenty plates of albumen photographs of goldsmiths' work from Romania. They are bound with a title page, descriptions of the objects and an introductory essay by Robert Henry Snoden Smith, Keeper of the National Art Library.



Plates 1-10 in the album show twelve objects known as The Treasure of Petrossa, a group of late fourth-century gold and jewelled objects owned by the Romanian Government and displayed in the 'Histoire de Travail' section of the Paris Universal Exhibition, 1867. According to the introductory notice by Snoden Smith, the objects were originally discovered by Romanian quarrymen working near the village of Petrossa (now Pietroasa) in the month of March, 1837. Smith writes that the 'ignorant peasants could not be expected to recognize any worth higher than that of the metal and the glittering stones', and the find 'fell into evil hands', including a Greek mason named Verussi.



Smith continues that the treasure might have remained hidden for ever 'but that the precious stones which Verussi rejected as worthless became the playthings of some children, and thus a whisper of the extraordinary discovery got abroad; inquiries were made, and the whole affair came to light'. Vertrussi was denounced to the authorities, a 'rigid investigation by the Government followed, punishments were liberally dispensed, and after many months, twelve pieces of the original twenty-two, and a few fragments, were at length recovered....Throughout the inquiry, which lasted until 1842, Verussi constantly maintained that the bulk of the remainder had been swept away in a flood of the river Calnau...but to his assertion little credit could be attached.'



The remaining 10 plates represent examples of Romanian goldsmith's work from the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, also part of the loan.







Subject depicted
Associations
Summary
Photographs and photographers were present from the very beginning of the V&A's history and the Museum has an extensive collection of images from the 1850s through to the present which documents objects in the V&A collection, loan objects, topographical views, examples of design and architecture, and the construction and development of the V&A and the South Kensington site.



Originally collected by the National Art Library as part of a programme to record works of art, architecture and design in the interest of public education, these photographs were valued as records and as source material for students. As well as being crucial records of the history of the South Kensington Museum (now the V&A), and an important element within the National Art Library's visual encyclopaedia, these photographs are also significant artefacts in the history of the art of photography.



Isabel Agnes Cowper (1826-1911) worked as the the South Kensington Museum's Official Museum Photographer from 1868 until her retirement in 1891. The daughter of renowned engraver, John Thompson, she originally trained as a wood engraver, engraving illustrations for volumes by John Ruskin and Henry Cole, the V&A's first Director. Examples of her engraving work entered the V&A collection some time in the late 19th century.



In 1868, Cowper, a widow, took on the role of Official Museum Photographer upon the death of her brother, Charles Thurston Thompson, the South Kensington Musem's first Official Museum Photographer. It is likely that Thurston Thompson passed on to Cowper his knowledge of photography. She would have also been exposed to the medium through her husband, Charles Cowper, who held various photographic patents in his name. Recent research confirms that there are thousands of photographs by Cowper in the collection.



The plates in this album are examples of some of the first recorded photographs taken by Cowper. The photographed objects came to the Museum in December 1867 as part of a loan display and remained on view for six months. The negatives were registered in the Museum ledger on April 1868, and many of the negatives that survive have Cowper's signature etched into collodion emulsion.



Around the time these photographs were taken, the Department of Science and Art, which administered the Library, entered into a publishing agreement with the Arundel Society. This volume is one of the earliest produced as part of the collaboration between the Department and the Arundel Society. The accompanying text in the volume fails to identify Cowper as the photographer. This is noteworthy as an earlier volume from this series featuring photographs made by her brother, Thurston Thompson, clearly identifies him as the photographer.



Cowper lived and worked at the Museum with her four children and another brother, Richard Thompson, the South Kensington Museum Assistant Director, in accomodations reserved for senior staff. Up until recently, little was known of Cowper but ongoing research has reavealed that she played an important role in the early history of the V&A and the Museum's early uptake of photography to document the arts.

Associated Objects
Bibliographic Reference
Soden Smith, Robert Henry. The Treasure of Petrossa and other Goldsmith's Work from Roumania: A Series of Twenty Photographs of Ancient Gold Vessels, Fibulae, Neck-rings, etc. found near Petrossa in Roumania, in 1837, and shown in the "History of Labour" Section of the Paris Universal Exhibition of 1867, and Examples of Goldsmith's Art in Roumania with Description and Introductory Notice. London: Arundel Society for Promoting the Knowledge of Art, Bell and Daldy and Under the Sanction of the Science and Art Department, 1869.No.20
Other Numbers
  • 92.D.29 - NAL Pressmark
  • 38041800998759 - NAL barcode
Collection
Library Number
65885

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record createdApril 1, 2019
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