Barely five years after first showing his invention—photography on paper—to the public, the Victorian polymath Henry Talbot took on an ambitious subject. Still-life painters frequently included cut crystal or glassware in their elaborate fruit or flower compositions, in part as a demonstration of virtuoso technique, depicting a transparent object made visible only as reflected and refracted light.
Taken in broad daylight, this image was featured in Talbot’s The Pencil of Nature (1844–46), the first commercially published book illustrated with photographs. In the text that accompanied a similar photograph titled Articles of China, Talbot wrote that “the whole cabinet of a Virtuoso and collector . . . might be depicted on paper in little more time than it would take him to make a written inventory.” Furthermore, he recognized how such pictures could provide “mute testimony” as legal evidence should a thief steal one of the items on view.