The Ramparts of Carcassonne

Artist: Gustave Le Gray (French, 1820–1884)

Artist: Auguste Mestral (French, Rans 1812–1884 Rans)

Date: 1851

Medium: Salted paper print from waxed paper negative

Dimensions: Image: 23.5 x 33.2 cm (9 1/4 x 13 1/16 in.)
Mount: 31.2 x 45.2 cm (12 5/16 x 17 13/16 in.)

Classification: Photographs

Credit Line: Gilman Collection, Purchase, Harriette and Noel Levine Gift, 2005

Accession Number: 2005.100.34


For the Missions Héliographiques, Le Gray was assigned the Loire Valley and the regions just to the south, toward Bordeaux; Mestral was to cover the southwest, from Bordeaux to Perpignan, and the Auvergne. But the two decided instead to travel together, sometimes photographing sites on one another's list and occasionally working in collaboration, as indicated by the inscription in Le Gray's hand at the lower right of this print, "Gustave Le Gray et Mestral." No site on their itinerary yielded more dramatic images than the city of Carcassonne, its thirteenth-century fortifications an outstanding model of medieval military architecture. These photographs are of special interest to modern viewers as a rare pictorial record of Carcassonne just prior to the extensive reconstruction begun under the direction of Eugène Viollet-le-Duc.

Carcassonne's double walls, punctuated with towers, provided the photographers with a subject admirably suited to catching the nuances of light and shadow on geometric surfaces and one also resonant with historical import. Recalling an epoch long since vanished, the Tour de la Vade-the largest and most impregnable of the city's towers-dominates the picture, dwarfing in scale as it does in antiquity the simple grave markers near its base. Here Le Gray and Mestral present an essay on the place of man and his works in the passage of time.