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Andreas Groll (1812–1872)
Plate Armour of Fernando Álvarez de Toledo, Duke of Alba
Austria, Vienna, 1858
Saltprint, 25,7 x 17,2 cm

There is a strong connection between the historical development of the institution of the museum and of photography as a medium of visual documentation: both serve the purposes of collection and classificatory archiving, by creating a new order from de-contextualised objects (removed from their real world and historical contexts) as well as their ostensive intermediation. The connection can also be seen in the first Austrian publication illustrated with photographs, a catalogue of the armoury collection of the Habsburg arch duke Ferdinand von Tirol (1529-1595) written by Eduard von Sacken.

This collection of armour of significant monarchs and generals was established next to a library, a collection of paintings and a cabinet of curiosities ("Kunst- und Wunderkammer") in the late 16th century in the Renaissance castle of Ambras in Tyrol. The collection – amongst it also the half harness of the duke of Alba, crafted by Desiderius Helmschmied – was moved to Vienna in 1806 and is now located at Kunsthistorisches Museum.

Andreas Groll was a pioneer of early photographic practice in Austria, having started in 1852 he was one of the first photographers living purely of his craft in Austria. He reached a high level of proficiency in several genres and techniques; his most famous works are his architectural shots taken in Austro-Hungary. The salted paper print here shows extraordinary detail of reproduction. This was achieved by Groll not only through his professional photographical technique but also through a highly skilled use of light and exact positioning of the object.

These characteristics become clearly visible if you compare Groll’s 150 year old print with the brilliant colour photograph of the harness on the website of the Kunsthistorisches Museum: The new photograph hardly shows the fine gravures on the chest plates of the armour, whereas in Groll’s slightly faded print they are so clearly visible that the viewer can still make out the depiction of a knight kneeling in front of a crucifix in his armour. These different ways of depiction could also be seen as an illustration of the standards and self-understanding of museums and their visual mediums over the past 150 years.

Marie Röbl, © WestLicht


Lit.: Eduard von Sacken, Die vorzüglichsten Rüstungen und Waffen der k.k. Ambraser Sammlung in Originalphotographie, 2. Band, Vienna (Braumüller) 1862, table XXXI (ill.).

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