My new Cartes-de-Visite


 Camille Silvy, Carte-de-Visite of Princess Leiningen,1860

At the photography market at Box Hill Town Hall last Sunday I bought these two cartes-de-visite from the 1860s. Carte-de-visites were ‘visiting card’ photographs circulated in their millions from 1860, one of the great innovations in photography.

The ‘Cartomania’ craze was a social phenomenon of widespread popularity during the latter half of the nineteenth century. Small portraits of approximately the same size as a standard visiting card were exchanged between friends and family members and assembled into albums, many of which were expensively and lavishly decorated. These were prominently placed within the home, where visitors could peruse the contents and assess the calibre of the host’s social connections (

The one above is Princess Leiningen, photographed by Camille Silvy in 1860. I was thrilled to be buying a print by Camille Silvy, one of the great names of early photography. And they are real silver prints, made on albumen paper, not mass-printed in a printing press. How much did I pay? …$10.

And who is Princess Leiningen? Marie of Baden was the second daughter and seventh child of Leopold, from 1832 Grand-Duke of Baden, and his wife, Sophie of Sweden. On 11 September 1858 she married Ernst, 4th Prince of Leiningen, the son of Queen Victoria’s half-brother.  ( Married to the son of Queen Victoria’s half-brother! Was that her only claim to celebrity?

The other Carte-de-Visite is of John Leech (1817-1864), an lllustrator and caricaturist which is signified by the Venus de Milo statuette beside him. Leech was an illustrator in the popular press and in books, including those by Charles Dickens. Like the Princess, he presents himself as a classic figure of the Victorian age.


 Camille Silvy, Carte-de-Visite of John Leech, photographed on 16 July 1861




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