Cartes de visite

“With a hair-pin and a visiting card,
a woman is ready to meet most emergencies.
Emily Post: “Cards and Visits”, Chapter 10 of Etiquette in Society, in Business, in Politics and at Home, 1922

The complex ritual of the visiting cards became an integral part of the etiquette of the European aristocracy in the 18th century. The gentleman or lady, before visiting anyone in his or her home, first sent a visiting card with a servant, and waited until the other party indicated, by sending in return his or her visiting card, that a personal visit would not be unwelcome. The intricate nuances of the system covered by the manuals of good taste aimed at the preservation of dignity and to avoid what the Chinese calls “losing one’s face”. For example, if the return card was sent in an envelope, it indicated that the gesture was appreciated, but a visit was still discouraged.

Visiting card, photo by Matthew Brady, 1864

The visiting card with a photography – carte-de-visite – was patented in 1854 by the Parisian photographer André Adolphe Eugène Disdéri. The invention had a number of important components. Above all, instead of the former daguerrotipe that did not allow more than one copy, the recently discovered wet process was used, through which any number of prints could be made on albumin paper from one negative. The prints were then mounted on a card of the size of a visiting card. In addition, he used a camera with four lenses and could record even eight card size pictures on one glass plate. In this way he pulled down his prices to one fifth of the usual tariff, and moreover, he undertook the work with an extremely fast two-days deadline. The new phenomenon spelled disaster to all the other photographers of Paris.

An uncut carte de visite of Prince Lobkowitz, 1858

Michaux on his bicycle, uncut carte de visite, 1867

Disdéri’s cartes de visite can be found in a large number on the internet. A particularly good collection of nearly one thousand of them can be seen in the virtual museum of Paul Frecker, London, whose detailed captions offer a unique waxworks tour of the members of the contemporary Parisian haute société.

“Le Panthéon de Paris”, advertisement card by Disdéri. A montage of 380 cartes de visite, in the very format of a visiting card

The legs of the dancers of the Opera of Paris. A collective visiting card, Disdéri, 1864

Disdéri’s cartes de visite launched a huge fashion, especially after he also made a series of cartes for Emperor Napoleon III and his family which every Parisian bourgeois desired to see in their own albums. His atelier under the Boulevard des Italiens 8 was described by a German visitor as “really the Temple of Photography – a place unique in its luxury and elegance. Daily he sells three to four thousand francs worth of portraits”. He had filials in London and Madrid and worked with more than a hundred employees. He left behind 91 albums, 12 thousand negatives and more than fifty thousand pictures.

Napoleon III, his wife and son as the ideal model of the bourgeois family

The passion for cartes de visites began to subside in Paris only from the late 1860s onwards, but by that time the fashion already conquered America and the East. Ateliers specialized in cartes the visite were opened in a row in Berlin, Vienna, Budapest, Constantinople as well as in the United States, and they flourished until WWI and in some cases even after the war.

Carte de visite of Ueno Hikoma, daughter of the daimyō of Ōmura, c. 1869-1873.

Cartes de visites of maharajas, atelier of Ader, c. 1870-80

The number of the surviving cartes de visites is estimated to number more than a million. This is a particular microcosm whose intimacy permits to see more from the habits, way of thinking and everyday life of the period than the more representative and formal schemes of the later cabinet pictures do. We will repeatedly return on them.

Envelope of a visiting card, Egypt, c. 1890

1 comentario:

Robin's Egg Bleu dijo...

Your blog is beautiful! I am really enjoying all these fabulous images. Very informative. I love cdv's! Have a wonderful New Year!
Take Care,