Since researchers have been taking a keen interest, we think it’s time for us to take a closer look too.
The two albums of sepia photographs of the Old Masters, are believed to have been once owned by the English poet and painter, Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1828-1882).
The ‘photographs’ are imprints on rather fragile pieces of paper. They are loosely inserted in the album, some are embossed on the back giving clues of the photographer (J. Laurent, Madrid) or the name of the exhibiting gallery (Cuadros Del RL. Museo). They show paintings by Velázquez, Lopez, Luini, Rafael, Giolfino, Da Vinci, etc.
Researchers are focussed on the provenance of the albums; whether they inform on the cultural dialogue which Rossetti may have had with the Italian Renaissance; and their journey to UEA Special Collections.
Perhaps this is a case of provenance triumphing over product. The ‘photographs’ are flimsy, they may have been printed in fair numbers and it’s the sort of thing we nowadays might expect to pick up in a museum shop.
The detail of how Rossetti acquired the prints is not known yet clearly he valued them. His will at Somerset House confirms that the albums were bequeathed to the book illustrator and artist Frederick J. Shields (1833-1911). The first volume is signed by Shields with this quote:
Many nights have I spent with my glorious friend in the engagement of these treasures
We believe that the albums then came into the hands of the collector Claude Colleer Abbott (1889-1971). Abbott bequeathed his library of 1,500 items to UEA. He was interested in the Rossetti family and amongst his papers lodged at Durham University are 37 letters between Rossetti and F.J. Shields.
Most recently the albums were consulted in Special Collections by a researcher from Richmond, Virginia.
Special Collections are all catalogued in UEA Library Search and are open to all (by appointment).