The artist in the mirror (Adolphe Braun)

This carte-de-visite is part of a series called “Costumes de Suisse,” published around 1869 by French photographer Adolphe Braun (1812-1877).  Braun’s studio was in Alsace, France, in the village of Dornach, near the borders with Germany and Switzerland.  Each photo in the series presents a young woman in a traditional costume from a particular Swiss canton.  This photo is labeled CANTON DE FRIBOURG (PARTIE ALLEMANDE), meaning it presents a costume from the German area of the Canton de Fribourg.

Canton de Fribourg by Adolphe Braun 2

When I saw this carte for sale online, my eye was drawn first to the young woman’s elaborate headdress, then to her dress, then to the lace in front of her.  Then my gaze drifted up to the mirror, and I was surprised to see a man’s figure there, undoubtedly that of Adolphe Braun.  His face isn’t visible, but his torso is neatly framed by the oval mirror.  This was no accidental self-portrait!

Canton de Fribourg by Adolphe Braun 4

Canton de Fribourg by Adolphe Braun 5

 

The J. Paul Getty Museum has a complete set of Costumes de Suisse. Photographies d’apres Nature par A. Braun.  The museum’s version of Canton de Fribourg differs slightly from this one.  The website has the following description of it:

Portrait of a woman wearing a dress typical of the canton of Fribourg, Switzerland. She stands in front of an open suitcase on top of an intricately carved dresser or sideboard. A lace veil with a dot pattern spills over the sides of the case, and the woman rests one hand on the top and the other on the bottom. A mirror with an ornately carved frame hangs on the wall above the suitcase, and a painted backdrop that hangs in an open doorframe behind the woman depicts a valley landscape and the surrounding mountains.

Surprisingly, the museum doesn’t mention a figure in the mirror.  In the Getty’s version of the photo, more lace is visible, and the figure in the mirror is standing more upright:

Canton de Fribourg
Canton de Fribourg, by Adolphe Braun. Digital image courtesy of the Getty’s Open Content Program. Some age-toning removed (partial de-saturation) by the author.
Detail, Canton de Fribourg, by Adolphe Braun. Digital image courtesy of the Getty’s Open Content Program.

 

I’ve looked through the other 26 images in the Getty’s set of Costumes, and Braun doesn’t seem to appear in any of them.  One contains a mirror, but nothing is visible in it.  What was special to him about this one, if anything?  Did he have a personal connection to the Canton de Fribourg?  Or was he just having a little fun, stepping into the frame for once, instead of always remaining invisible, only a name on a card?

Canton de Fribourg by Adolphe Braun 3

 

 

26 thoughts on “The artist in the mirror (Adolphe Braun)

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  1. Always fun to find those interesting little things, like the photographer’s image in the mirror. I also noticed it right away and wondered. 🙂
    It’s quite an elaborate costume, but it’s amazing how that hat stays on! 🙂

    Liked by 3 people

  2. Do you have an approximate date for the card? The first, fanciful thought that came to me was that he might have just finished reading “The Picture of Dorian Gray,” which was published in 1890. Or, his image there might have been nothing more than a sly joke.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Very interesting young lady in an amazing dress and a headdress. My attention was immediately attracted by a chest and a mirror. How much time does the master spend on making such a beautiful things? Amazing work!

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Beautiful photo with an interesting little mystery associated with it! I love the set of photos at the Getty. It shows that art curators aren’t always the most observant folks. Or maybe what they look for is different than what the rest of us look for in a piece of artwork.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. In my research, the Getty’s website has frequently been the best place to find information on early European photographers not working in the UK. (The NPG in Britain is the best for the UK.) I was really impressed by how much attention the Getty had given to Braun’s work. They have 712 of his photographs! (Most are probably landscapes.) I was surprised the cataloger didn’t notice the figure in the mirror, but they couldn’t notice every detail in every image. Thanks, Shayne!

      Liked by 2 people

  5. I do love the mystery of the photographer in the mirror! Just behind her to the left is a rosary hanging upon the wall. I say rosary because it has the same form and count yet rosaries usually begin at their base with a crucifix and this one seems to have a medal instead. I wonder why it’s there. Wonderful photo!

    Liked by 2 people

      1. Thanks Brad! I looked up rosaries and they can be made without a crucifix but it’s not common. It occurs to me that there could be a cross within the circular medal that we cannot see. I was thinking and all of this is pure conjecture as my thoughts often go to stories. Several of the details make me wonder if these two are in fact a couple, perhaps even forbidden. The rosary hanging on the wall behind her could be a symbol of how one or the other or both must leave the institution of the church in order to be together. The lace in the open suitcase and the ornate chest remind me of a woman gathering her best to take with her into the journey of marriage. The chest at the ready to hold their few precious possessions and their dreams of the future. And of course the photographer himself, staying hidden but so clearly close at hand, facing her. He is gazing upon her and in a way has made a portrait of them both even though he keeps himself hidden. Why does he find a way to add himself into this particular portrait and none of the others. Maybe….😊

        Liked by 2 people

      2. Ever the romantic! ❤️ You tell a convincing tale, dear poet! Now I won’t look at this image the same way again, which is totally fine. 😊 About the medal or token on the rosary, I zoomed in at very high resolution and could see nothing there–it looks completely blank. That could mean that the design on the surface of the token is very subtle and the camera didn’t pick it up. My guess is that it doesn’t have a cross on it, at any rate. Hope you and the pups are having a nice weekend so far!

        Liked by 1 person

  6. You said the museum’s version differs slightly from yours. I wonder if there could be further different versions of the same picture and when you line them up in sequence, the final picture will reveal the photographer’s face, that would be fun 😊

    Liked by 3 people

  7. Everyone has such fascinating responses! This is a truly intriguing photo for so many reasons. But I can’t seem to draw my attention away from the hat. What on earth is it made of? It looks prickly! National costumes are so bizarre, as we know from earlier posts of yours, Brad! Chaucer’s Prioress wrapped her rosary around her wrist, like a bracelet, and it had a medallion at the end, instead of a cross, with a capital A beginning the inscription “Amor Vincit Omnia.” (Of course, all of this was Chaucer’s sly commentary on the Prioress, whose mind should have been on heavenly love, and not her little dogs, her elegant table manners, and–horrors–“Amor,” earthly love. )

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Fascinating, Carol! I love the Chaucer reference!! I still don’t know what the hats were made of, but they were apparently colorful, and pins may have been involved. This image is on Pinterest, but I couldn’t figure out the address of the original source blog:

      Liked by 1 person

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