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Getty seeks to preserve memory of Palmyra's Roman ruins through acquisition of rare photography collection

French naval officer Louis Vignes took images of Beirut, Lebanon and Syria in 1864

by Emily Sharpe  |  2 October 2015
Getty seeks to preserve memory of Palmyra's Roman ruins through acquisition of rare photography collection
Destroyed by Isil: Temple of Baalshamin, Palmyra, Syria, albumen print, 1864 (negative by Louis Vignes, photograph printed by Charles Nègre)
The Los Angeles-based Getty Research Institute has acquired a collection of some of the earliest photographs of Beirut, Lebanon and Syria, including images of the Roman ruins at the beleaguered ancient city of Palmyra—a Unesco World Heritage Site caught in the crossfire of the on-going Syrian Civil War.

The 47 albumen prints were taken in 1864 by the French naval officer Louis Vignes, who accompanied the archaeologist and keen art collector Honoré Théodore Paul Joseph d’Albert, the 8th duc de Luynes, on one of the earliest scientific missions to the Dead Sea. The group visited Lebanon and Syria in 1864 on their way back to France. Vignes received training in photography from Charles Nègre, a founding member of the first photographic society, the Société Héliographique. 

  • Temple of Bel, Palmyra, Syria, albumen print, 1864
    (negative by Louis Vignes, photograph printed by Charles
    Nègre)
  • Triumphal arch and great colonnade, Palmyra, Syria, albumen print, 1864 (negative by Louis Vignes, photograph printed by Charles Nègre)
  • Great colonnade, Palmyra, Syria, albumen print, 1864 (negative by Louis Vignes, photograph printed by Charles
    Nègre)
  • Temple of Bel complex, Palmyra, Syria, albumen print, 1864 (negative by Louis Vignes, photograph printed by
    Charles Nègre)
“The on-going Syrian Civil War now threatens to obliterate Palmyra utterly,” says Frances Terpak, the Getty Research Institute’s curator of photography. “These photographs represent rare primary documents of a region and World Heritage Site in crisis, preserving the memory of its ancient monuments and natural beauty for posterity.” Noting that Lebanon and Syria have been “irreparably altered” by both the 1975 Lebanese War and the current Syrian conflict, Thomas W. Gaehtgens, the institute’s director, says: “In the face of the unspeakable human tragedy and cultural destruction of these conflicts, there is little scholars can do but strive to record, preserve, and interpret the historical record of these tremendously important historic sites.”

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