Sir John Herschel

Artist: Julia Margaret Cameron (British (born India), Calcutta 1815–1879 Kalutara, Ceylon)

Date: April 1867

Medium: Albumen silver print from glass negative

Dimensions: 35.9 x 27.9 cm (14 1/8 x 11 in.)

Classification: Photographs

Credit Line: The Rubel Collection, Partial and Promised Gift of William Rubel, 2013

Accession Number: 2013.1116


No commercial portrait photographer of the period would have portrayed Herschel as Cameron did here, devoid of classical columns, weighty tomes, scientific attributes, and academic poses—the standard vehicles for conveying the high stature and classical learning that one’s sitter possessed (or pretended to possess). To Cameron, Herschel was more than a renowned scientist; he was “as a Teacher and High Priest,” an “illustrious and revered as well as beloved friend” whom she had known for thirty years. Naturally, her image of him would not be a stiff, formal effigy. Instead, she had him wash and tousle his hair to catch the light, draped him in black, brought her camera close to his face, and photographed him emerging from the darkness like a vision of an Old Testament prophet.