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.
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!
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:
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?