Written by Jessica Cebra, ICFA Departmental Assistant
Before I begin reorganizing the contents of our cold storage collection of photographic materials I am assessing their current arrangement, their physical state to identify preservation needs, and also making sure all items are accounted for in our inventory list of 73,000+ items. This process involves exciting new discoveries as there are photographic documents of not only the fieldwork of the Byzantine Institute, but other related (and sometimes not so related) study materials, especially of Byzantine architecture. The first box of negatives I examined contained 108 copy negatives of architectural drawings by “Texier.” The drawings are stamped by the Royal Institute of British Architects and dated 1834. I hastily assumed “Texier” could be the name of some 19th century architectural draughtsman guild, but the beauty of the drawings led me to investigate further.
Charles Felix Marie Texier (1802-1871) was not only an architect, historian, archaeologist, and traveler, he had a long list of official titles including “Inspector of the Fine Art Establishments in France,” and “Commissioner of Public Works in Algeria.” Although a native of France, he became an Honorary Fellow of the Royal Academy of British Architects (RIBA), where many of his original drawings reside in the archives. In 1833, Texier was sent on a mission by the French government to document and research the Anatolian region which resulted in an oversize 6-volume work Description de l’Asie Mineure (1839-1848), including lithographs and wood engravings of architecture, ruins, and other ‘local’ scenes in Asia Minor.
To get a closer look at Texier’s work I had the chance to view some of these large volumes in Dumbarton Oaks’s very own Rare Book Collection. Initially, Texier’s work was only accessible to a small group of Antiquaries who would travel from Russia, Germany and England to consult his work in Paris. The general public could not view these immaculately detailed depictions from Texier’s travels until he began collaborating with historians to create published volumes of his drawings. The bulk of his work focuses on sites in Turkey and Iran. The images stored at ICFA are mostly drawings of Hagia Sophia, Kariye Camii, Kilise Camii, Zeyrek Camii, Tekfur Saray and the Sea Walls of Constantinople. The imagery ranges from loose sketches to intricately rendered watercolors of elevation drawings and interior decorations. The volumes I viewed in person documented other regions of Turkey and Armenia. To view some of the Istanbul sites please visit the RIBA Drawings and Archives website. RIBA also has a full listing of their Texier collection in their library catalog.
One might wonder how these negatives found their way into the ICFA collection. Upon further investigation, we found correspondence from 1956 regarding the acquisition of the negatives at the request of Cyril Mango, who was Instructor in Byzantine Archaeology at the time, and a former fellow and research associate at Dumbarton Oaks. Also, contact prints for the negatives were filed into binders (known as “site books”), which are located within ICFA — so all of the negatives can be viewed as photographic prints. Mango included some of Texier’s drawings in his article “Constantinopolitana” in the journal Jahrbuch des Deutschen Archäologischen Instituts, No. 80, in 1965. The article highlights a few groups of drawings by different artists which, at the time, were “virtually unknown.” Mango comments on the occasional inaccuracies of the drawings by Texier, but praises him for capturing architectural details and inscriptions that no longer exist today.
Charles Texier and his draughtsmen created some of the most exquisite documents of Byzantine and Persian architectural structures, which remain as some of the only testaments to sites that are now crumbling or destroyed.