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0091 Júlia Papp, John Brampton Philpot's photographs of fictile ivory in the Hungarian National Museum

RIHA Journal 0091 | 25 June 2014

John Brampton Philpot's photographs of fictile ivory in the Hungarian National Museum1

In commemoration of the bicentenary of Ferenc Pulszky's birth

Júlia Papp

Institute for Art History, Research Centre for the Humanities, Hungarian Academy of Sciences, Budapest

Peer review and editing managed by:

Judit Faludy, Institute for Art History, Research Centre for the Humanities, Hungarian Academy of Sciences, Budapest


Zsuzsa Farkas, János Eisler


In the Archeological Archives of the Hungarian National Museum you can find a series of photographs depicting fictile ivory. Made up of 265 items, the series were produced by John Brampton Philpot, born in the UK and settled in Florence in the middle of the 19th century, then donated to the museum by Ferenc Pulszky in 1868. Turned to exile in 1849, Pulszky inherited his belated uncle's valuable ivory collection, which was exhibited in London in 1853. Since technologies which made it possible for sensitive artefacts to be reproduced without any damage done to the original had become available by that time, Pulszky gave authorization, upon request of his colleagues at South Kensington Museum, for the reproduction of his ivory collection. In 1863 Pulszky started to live in Florence, where he got into professional contact with Philpot and is likely to have been instrumental in the making of the above photo series of fictile ivory. Philpot published an individual catalogue of these series, which despite its misspellings and erroneous data has provided great assistance in identifying the photographs from Budapest. Philpot's series of photographs supplied a lot of important information for the European history of photographing and collecting art treasures in the 19th century, and also contributed to the art reproduction movement of the 1850-60s. New technologies (electrotyping, photography) came to play a dominant role in the institutional development of art history, archeology and historic conservation. The network established and widened between the European public and private collections, which enhanced the exchange and the sales of art reproductions, with the intention of serving both educative and scientific aims.


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  1. Searching in the photographic archives of the Hungarian National Museum's central database, you can find a series of photographs (in Box. No. 30) consisting of 265 items, which depict fictile ivory form the ancient, medieval and early modern ages. Dry-stamped by the artist with the inscription "J. B. Philpot Firenze Lungo l'Arno", 151 out of these items are of a larger format (27,4 x 19,7 cm), while the remaining 114 are of a smaller format (11,5 x 6,7 cm) and completed with only a note on the verso saying "J. B. Philpot Firenze Borgo Ognissanti No 17"2 – thus the photographs were taken by John Brampton Philpot (1812-1878)3, born in the UK (Maidstone) and settled in Florence in 1850. The back of each of these items is provided with the registration date of 1871 and a manuscript inscription, which reads "by courtesy of Ferenc Pulszky"; that is to say, the series were donated by Ferenc Pulszky (1814-1897) to the library of the museum, which had come under his direction in 1869. (Fig. 1)

1 John Brampton Philpot: Photograph, verso, Hungarian National Museum

  1. These series of photographs serve as a spectacular example of "reproductive continuum"4 – which played a dominant role in the museological, educational and collector practices of the second half of 19th century – i.e., the contact of the different reproductive techniques of art treasures5 (drawings, etchings, plaster casts and electrotypes, paper mosaics, photographs, post cards in mass production and distribution, reproducing replicas of statues for cultural purposes6). A series of photographs made of fictile ivory, that is, a copy of copies, proves a useful illustration of the mutual influence these reproductive techniques exerted on each other.7


Art reproductions in Europe in the second half of the 19th century

  1. By the second half of the 19th century the collection of art reproductions had acquired a new function: by becoming commonly available in Europe, then soon in the United States8, these collections received a relevant mass educative, cultural and pedagogical role for the benefit of public visitors to the museums, and broke the monopoly of practicing or training artists and scientists to study art treasure and ornamentation at the same time and place in the various museums or private collections of the world or those decorating the exterior or interior of different buildings.

  2. Since purchasing plaster cast and electrotype reproductions of art had become more and more popular after the 1850s, both with private individuals (mainly collectors, scientists, architects and artists) and public institutions (museums, universities, art academies), enterprises dealing with reproduction work and organizations trusted with its sales also started to flourish. Established at the end of the 1840's and operating throughout the end of the 19th century, the British Arundel Society9, for example, organized meetings, lectures and exhibitions for the intention of collectors or anyone interested, and published catalogues with photographic illustrations of the reproductions on sale at the society.

  3. In commissioning art reproductions, the London based Victoria & Albert Museum, formerly known as South Kensington Museum,10 played a leading role among all the museums and managed to establish a fruitful relationship with individuals and companies specialized in reproducing art. Among its returning contractors figured the pioneer of electrotyping, the Birmingham based Elkington Company, which patented their revolutionary method in 1840. In 1853 the company received authorization from the museum to reproduce and market some of its properties.11

  4. The first director of South Kensington museum, Henry Cole (1808-1882), made relevant efforts to promote the reproductions of the museum's collection, because he presumed these played an important part in shaping public education, culture, and taste. Encouraged by the success of Elkington Company during the 1867 World's Fair in Paris, he drafted a convention entitled the "International Convention for Promoting Universally Reproductions of Works of Art", which intended to drive forward the mutual interchange of "cast, electrotype, photographic or any other type" of reproductions from major European museums. According to the original copy, which has been conserved up to this day, this convention was signed by 15 European princes. Cole's efforts proved finally successful and in 1873 the reproductions of architectural monuments and sculptures commissioned by the museum were first exhibited in the monumental twin halls of the freshly inaugurated Architectural Courts (today known as the Cast courts).12 In 1873 the museum published a catalogue of the electrotype reproductions they had made of the original pieces in their collections, a total of 80 items completed with high quality photographic illustrations.13

  5. In the 1850s a photographic wave started in Western Europe aimed at reproducing relevant architectural monuments14 and the most valuable art treasures of major museums (British Museum, South Kensington Museum, Louvre) and other collections.15 From the middle of the 19th century onwards European cultural institutions spent more and more on acquisitions of photographic series made up of hundreds – occasionally thousands – of items reproducing the content of national or foreign public and private collections, permanent and temporary exhibitions, as well as architectural monuments, which then became an integral part (linked to historical preservation, to maintenance of art treasure for museums, to scientific research, to education)16 in the recently-born institutional system of art history and archeology.

  6. Apart from photographers and art dealers, museums occasionally also took up the role of distributor for photographic art reproductions. Supported by the Science and Art Department of the Committee of Council on Education, in 1869 South Kensington Museum and Arundel Society jointly published a price catalogue, which, apart from presenting chromolithographs and engravings, promotes photographs in support of artistic education and – as it says on the cover – for the aim of making arts widely popular.17 The catalogue made mention of 13 – or to be more precise twenty – items in the series, and projected the completion of another 11 series of photo reproductions.18 Among the series for sale figured a collection depicting the gold of Petrossa found in Romania in the 1830s, and the photos are most likely to have been taken at the World's Fair of 1867 in Paris, where the artefact itself was first publicly unveiled.19 A high dissemination of photo reproductions can be well demonstrated by 13 photographs of the same antique artefact made in 1869 by Bucharest based photographer Henrik Trenk, and commissioned by Bucharest based scientist Alexandru Odobescu (1834-1895), who later donated and sent these series to the Hungarian Academy of Sciences (HAS) in Budapest.20 (Fig. 2)

2 Henrik Trenk: Photograph of Petrossa Treasure, 1869, Library and Information Centre of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences

  1. The question of art reproduction by means of photography, plaster cast or electrotype was equally raised during the first Art History Congress held in Vienna in 1873. In the 5th chapter of the Congress entitled "Reproductionen von Kunstwerken und deren Verbreitung im Interesse der Museen und des Kunstunterrichtes", participants discussed the international implications involved in the making and the distribution of art reproductions, as well as in their application for museological and educational purposes.21


Fictile ivory in the 19th century

  1. By the middle of the 19th century, as new reproduction techniques gained grounds without the risk to damage valuable art treasures, fictile ivory became more and more popular,22 for commercial, cultural and scientific usage equally. Excellent Italian reproduction craftsman (formatore) Giovanni Franchi (ca. 1812–1874),23 the first to use gelatin-based casting techniques in the UK, received an Award by the Society of Arts for making the finest fictile ivory at the end of the 1840s, and was known to achieve relevant commercial success, too.24 His reproductions were staged at the World's Fair of 1855 in Paris.25 Spurred on by the commercial sales activity of Arundel Society, in the 1850s reproduction of ivory carvings belonging to European museums, church treasuries and private collections started to gain higher and higher proportions:

In the spring of 1855 the Society became possessed of a valuable collection of moulds and other materials for the manufacture of casts, representing, nearly in facsimile, some of the most interesting specimens of ancient ivory-carvings now in existence […].26

  1. During the first annual meeting of the society in 1855 Matthew Digby Wyatt27 (1820–1877) gave a historical lecture on ivory carvings, making ample references to the experts' opinions and the relevant collections of his time. In the same year Arundel Society commissioned Edmund Oldfield (1817–1902), member of the society's executive committee and one of the founding members, too, to make good use of Wyatt's lecture and classify the different fictile ivories representing different schools and periods. Describing all known types on sale,28 Oldfield's catalogue was published in 1855, then a year later its completed version came out, with 9 albumin photo illustrations by J. A. Spencer and the transcript of Wyatt's lecture.29 The catalogue included ca. 150 reproductions, plus a pair of 12 items representing the details of the ivory casket of the Cathedral of Sens, and Oldfield's description of the reproduction process itself. The actual fictile ivory collection classified in a chronological order by Oldfield was then exhibited in the society's office.30

  2. In the prologue of the catalogue, Oldfield stresses that fictile ivory is from a financial point of view immaterial, since a whole collection would cost less than one piece of original ivory carving, and yet, for the art historian, a series of collections can provide a multitude of information compared to what you can learn out of a single original piece in any isolated European collection; then he goes on to relate how the collection of reproductions came about.31 He adds a list with the names of the owners of the original ivory carvings, ranking from private collectors to public institutions and churches.32

  3. Giving a detailed description, two decades later, of the production and sale processes of art replicas, John Obadiah Westwood (1805–1893) published another catalogue with a systematic classification of the fictile ivory which completes the original ivory collection of South Kensington Museum.33 According to the introduction of the catalogue, the 1850s saw Alexander Nesbitt (1817–1886), and Westwood himself, contributing to the improvement of art reproduction technologies. In order to manufacture the best moulds possible for their reproductions, Westwood and Nesbitt paid a visit to a large number of European museums, treasuries and other collections, where they could work with original ivory carvings. As we read on, we can learn that the finest plaster casts based on the moulds of Nesbitt, Augustus Wollaston Franks (1826–1897) and Westwood – and including not only those sold by Arundel Society, but also the complete collection of fictile ivory at South Kensington Museum – were manufactured by Franchi Company.34

  4. In this catalogue of monumental proportions (including 975 items and 24 photo illustrations) we are to witness the rising popularity of making art reproductions, and the author undertakes to give us an overview of the continental collections of ancient and medieval ivory carvings "in order to direct attention to the specimens of which it would be desirable to obtain fictile copies for the museum."35 He then gives the precise location of the original pieces.

  5. British governmental body Science and Art Department provided an opportunity for art schools and museums to acquire these fictile copies for educational, scientific and cultural purposes.36 In 1876 the department published another shorter catalogue, functioning as a price list, which, unlike Westwood's chronological classification, listed the fictile ivory of South Kensington museum in order of the registration numbers, indicating with each of the items the selling price of copies available at Elkington Company or Arundel Society.37 At the beginning of the catalogue a copy of the convention promoting the exchange of art reproduction, several official letters and memoranda were enclosed. Apart from Victoria & Albert Museum38, today we can find relevant collections of 19th century fictile ivory in many public institutions.39

  6. Still in the middle of the 19th century, a friend of Ferenc Pulszky's, Imre Henszlmann (1813–1888), underlined the importance of the different kinds of reproductions besides original art treasure if you want to get a universal picture of art history, based on the artefact of the different nations and periods.40 Pulszky seemed to be of the same opinion according to his lecture of 1852 in London, dealing with the optimal arrangement of museological items:

In the Glyptothek of Munich and the Museum of Berlin collections were conceived on the basis of a general, not a comprehensive plan; by preference of architectural effects and on account of demonstrating royal majesty, completion by plaster cast of the missing parts of monumental art history had been refused, although this was the only way for these museums to become an art school and form authentic historical archives […].

Among all civilized people, museums should be able to give a perfect picture of art history. All art treasure, which has been forged by the artistic flair of past centuries should be ranged into collections […] When establishing such a national institution, it is not the rarity of the artefact that prevails but the completeness of the collection; it should be provided for that no work of art is missing from it if it is representative of a given artistic period of a given people; where you cannot acquire the missing part out of marble or copper, plaster casts ought to be used instead. By visiting a museum hall, you would then be able to cover 30 centuries of civilization, each century being represented by some artwork, in commemoration of a civilizational milestone beset by the path of human progress, showing us all stages of its glory and fall.41

  1. In the art collection of Pulszky's uncle, Gábor Fejérváry,42 figured a group of antique, byzantine and medieval ivory carvings of outstanding art historical importance. Many of them had been acquired from local collectors, either through exchange or by purchase from their legacies. Around 1843 Ferenc Pulszky started to prepare a catalogue for the collection, but his initial notes remained unfinished.43

  2. Pulszky took part in the Hungarian revolution and the war of Independence of 1848–1849, then settled in London,44 where he soon joined the intellectual and cultural circles, especially those forming around museums and collectors.45 Fejérváry died at the end of November 1851. After a few months following the death of his uncle, Pulszky found a way to bring the collection he had inherited from him to the UK.46 He organized an exhibition out of the items of the Fejérváry collection between 23 May and 9 July at the locations of the Archaeological Institute of London, the catalogue of which was compiled by Imre Henszlmann staying at the time in London.47 The catalogue listed the total collection on exhibit, including the valuable ivory collection,48 which Henszlmann – and the foreign press with him – considered as the biggest of all, in line only with the collection of the Library of Paris.49 As a good example of "reproductive continuum", the exhibition aligned original art work and reproductions: "Cast of a Consular Diptych in the treasure of the Cathedral of Halberstadt in Germany" – according to the catalogue.50

  3. The ivory carvings exhibited in 1853 in London, provided experts with the opportunity of comparing the transition period between roman and medieval arts but – as Pulszky writes in his memoirs – their research was invariably hindered by

the quasi impossibility of reproduction, for previously no private, nor public collector would allow for their ivory reliefs to be reproduced in plaster for fear that this process by wetting the originals may damage them. However I conceded therequest of Mr. Nesbitt, and let him cast my ivory antiques in gelatin, then have them eletrotyped by Franchi, formatore of South-Kensington Museum,51on condition that if this reproduction method is extended and an exchange program between the collectors starts, I should have a right of option in acquiring the exchange copies first. I finally managed especially after the French museum was so quick to approve of the casting and exchange programs. Thus came to life the plaster cast collection originally been made for the members of Arundel-society, and at the exhibition of which I made a speech too […].52

  1. Partly for family reasons, partly for his change of interest in collection trends53, Pulszky sold some parts of his collection during his stay in the UK. The most valuable part of this collection, the set of ivory carvings,54 was first proposed for sale for the British Museum but on account of a recent acquisition of the same nature, representatives of the museum turned down Pulszky's offer. In 1855 the ivory antiques ended up in the hands of Liverpool based merchant and jeweler Joseph Mayer (1803-1886), who in 1867 and in the course of the subsequent years donated them to the city museum of Liverpool founded in 1851.55 Upon Mayer's request Pulszky made a catalogue for his ivory carving collection, referring himself to the work of Edmund Oldfield mentioned earlier:

Still, we shall try to group them [i.e. the byzantine carvings] in some rather extensive classes, thus, for instance, as Mr Oldfield did, in his excellent catalogue of the casts of the Arundel Society.56