Stunning Exhibition of First-Known Photographs of Athens at Metropolitan Museum

The Northern and eastern sides of the Parthenon

The earliest surviving photographs of Greece, Egypt, Turkey, Lebanon, Syria and Jerusalem, taken in the mid-nineteenth century, will be on display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York until May 12.

The photographs comprise a stunning exhibition of the first-known photographs of Athens by a French photographer named Joseph-Philibert Girault de Prangey.

Entitled “Monumental Journey: The Daguerreotypes of Girault de Prangey,” the exhibit includes a selection of approximately 120 of the more than 1,000 photographs taken by the traveling photographer in Greece, Egypt and elsewhere in the region between 1842 and 1845.

Agios Eleftherios Church, the Athens Monastery of Daphni. The eleventh-century monastery was in ruins when Girault visited in 1842, having been used as a garrison during the Greek War of Independence from Ottoman rule.
Girault’s panoramic view of the famed ancient Greek Acropolis is dominated by the tall building known as the Frankish Tower, one of many Byzantine, Frankish, and Ottoman structures added to the hilltop citadel over the centuries.
The temple of Erechtheion

Girault, who lived from 1804 to 1892, embarked on a three-year photographic excursion throughout the Eastern Mediterranean at the age of thirty-eight. He returned to France years later with more than one thousand daguerreotypes — an unparalleled feat in the history of photography which resulted in a priceless treasure for history.

Among the images he created are the earliest surviving photographs of Greece, Egypt, Turkey, Lebanon, Syria, and Jerusalem, and some of the first daguerreotypes depicting Italy.

A trailblazer in the creation of daguerreotypes, Girault used oversize plates and innovative formats to produce what is today the world’s oldest photographic archive — which was all in the service of a brand-new type of archaeological fieldwork.

This exhibition, the first ever in the United States devoted to Girault, and the first to focus on his Mediterranean journey, features approximately 120 of his daguerreotypes. The monumental works are supplemented by examples of his graphic work — watercolors, paintings, and lithographs of his which were used as illustrations in publications.