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Louis Vignes views and panoramas of Beirut and the ruins of Palmyra, 1864

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Vignes (Louis) Views and Panoramas

Scope and Content of Collection

The collection comprises 47 photographic views of the city of Beirut, Lebanon, the ruins of the Roman city of Palmyra, and the village of Rastan (al-Rastan, Ar-Rastan) taken by Louis Vignes following the conclusion of the duc de Luynes's first expedition to the Dead Sea region in 1864. Vignes's photographs of Palmyra are the earliest taken of the ruins and, as such, mark the beginning of modern documentation of the site. His photographs of Beirut are also among the earliest photographs taken of that city.

After the remaining members of the Luynes expedition had returned to France, Vignes waited out the summer heat before traveling to Palmyra from Tripoli via Homs and Hamah, two ancient cities on the Orontes River. He was accompanied on the journey, which lasted from September 15 to October 11, by a naval cadet named Fouet. The men reached Palmyra on September 28, leaving the site on the second of October. Twenty-nine of the 35 photographs Vignes took of Palmyra are present in the collection, including two panoramic views of the site consisting of two and three prints respectively. The three-part panorama was taken from Diocletian's monument. Twenty-four single prints depict the site from various vantage points and show its monumental 3,000 foot-long colonnade, the triumphal arch, the Temple of Bel and Temple Baal Shamin, the monument of Diocletian, and the tower tombs in the Valley of the Tombs bordering the city on its southwest side.

While the specific views Vignes took during the expedition when Luynes was present were made at the express request of the duke, as evidenced by his diary entries (published posthumously in Voyage d'exploration ­à la mer Morte…), those he made at Palmyra must necessarily have been of his own decision, guided perhaps by the duke's general instructions to "precisely map the exact position of the ruins."

On their return route Vignes and his party turned north at Homs towards Rastan, a village built on the Roman site of Arethusa which was established in the third century B.C. They made camp there on October 6. The river Orontes, which flows northward from Lebanon through Syria and Turkey to the Mediterranean Sea, is the subject of two of the three photographs related to Rastan present in the collection. The third image is a view of the expedition's camp at Rastan. Vignes returned to Beirut on October 12 before returning to France with the fruits of his labors.

The city and port of Beirut, the most significant Middle Eastern trading center in the mid-nineteenth century, is documented in the collection by one four-part and three two-part panoramas. Vignes took one of his two-part panoramas of Beirut from the house of Aim­é P­éreti­é, the dragoman-chancellor of the French consulate in Beirut and a well-known collector of antiquities. This, along with an image of the salon in P­éreti­é's home, was most likely made when Vignes first arrived in Beirut with Luynes and the other expedition members. Three single photographs depicting the city's famed stone or umbrella pines, and one showing the road to Damascus complete the photographs of Beirut.

Excepting one of the two-part panoramas of Beirut, Vignes used dry collodion glass plate negatives to produce the images found in this collection. In 1865, the duc de Luynes commissioned Charles N­ègre to print albumen photographs from all of the negatives Vignes took during the expedition. The photographs in this collection formed part of the original set of albumen prints N­ègre produced for the duke's personal collection, and were presumably completed before Luynes's death in 1867. Unlike Vignes's photographs from the Dead Sea, the Palmyra images were not reproduced by N­ègre as photogravures, and consequently had never been published prior to being acquired by the repository.


Arranged in a single series:
Series I. Louis Vignes views and panoramas of Beirut and the ruins of Palmyra, 1864.

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