Emperor Charles V's helmet
Photographer: Charles Clifford (1819 - 63)
'Helmet of Charles V, in the Royal Armoury, Madrid, c.1862'
Best known for his architectural and landscape work, Charles Clifford also undertook a commission to photograph the collections of Madrid’s Royal Armoury in the early 1860s.
Despite the seemingly mundane documentary demands of such a task, the subtle lighting and composition of these richly toned prints resulted in a wonderfully tactile series of still life studies. It has been suggested that these photographs were the work of his wife Jane, but it seems more likely that she was responsible only for the printing, rather than the original photography.
The albumen print, announced by the French photographer and publisher Louis-Désiré Blanquard-Évrard in 1850, was the most widespread print medium in use between the mid-1850s and the 1890s.
While the printing process was similar to the salt print, the albumen print is generally distinguishable by the glossy sheen imparted by a preliminary sizing of the paper with albumen (egg white) and salt. This sealing of the paper created a surface layer on which the silver image was formed, and made possible much greater density, contrast and sharpness in the final image than had been possible with the plain salted paper print.
After the albumen coating had been applied, the paper was made light-sensitive by the addition of silver nitrate, and printed in contact with the negative. The fixed print could then be toned to create a wide variety of colours, ranging from purple-black to a rich chocolate brown.
Although it continued to be used well into the 20th century, its popularity declined after the mid-1890s.