In France, the mid-19th century was a time of renewed interest in the nation’s medieval past—in literature (Victor Hugo’s Hunchback of Notre Dame was published in 1831), music, and especially architecture. It was also a time when artists of the first rank took up the new and still handcrafted medium of photography and made pictures of great ambition and beauty for an aristocratic clientele. Baldus was one of five photographers commissioned by the French government in 1851 to carry out photographic surveys of the nation’s architectural patrimony to aid in preservation and restoration decisions. In the years that followed, he established himself as the country’s preeminent architectural photographer, continuing to sell views of historic monuments to the government, captains of industry, and collectors of the new art. At the Gothic cathedral at Amiens, 75 miles north of Paris, he photographed the elaborately carved main portal emerging from the shadows and the restorer’s scaffolding. Fulfilling his dual goals of documentation and artistry, Baldus clearly recorded the portal’s treasure trove of early 13th-century sculpture even as he bathed the whole in an atmosphere of 19th-century Romanticism.


  • Title: Cathédrale d'Amiens, Portail principal
  • Creator: Édouard Baldus
  • Creator Lifespan: 1813 - 1889
  • Creator Nationality: French
  • Creator Gender: Male
  • Date: 1855
  • Physical Dimensions: w34 x h44.1 cm (sheet)
  • Type: Photographs
  • External Link: MFAH
  • Medium: Salted paper print from glass negative
  • Credit Line: The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, gift of Manfred Heiting, the Manfred Heiting Collection

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