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24 June 2021

Jean Laurent and the Alhambra

During the 19th century, the Alhambra was part of a journey through Orientalism by the travelling elites who went on the European “Grand Tour”. This expedition was a means of discovering the exotic and was enriched by photography.
Images of the Alhambra were spread around the world by professionals such as renowned photographers Charles Clifford, R. P. Napper and later Jean Laurent (1816 ? 1886).

Jean Laurent was one of the most important photographers working in Spain in the 19th century. He represented a new generation of professionals who had commercial companies that produced and published images and promoted photography by creating different products for sale (stereoscopes, images on cards, large positive copies, albums). Laurent’s business opened stores in
Madrid and Paris to sell products inside and outside Spain and it had a wide distribution network.

Laurent built up a large photographic archive over almost thirty years of uninterrupted activity, producing thousands of views of Spain. His work was spread far and wide, which is why his business was so important to establishing an iconography of Granada, while his production in the city was the widest and
most systematic of any work in Granada by a foreign photographer. Its great value lies in its size, with more than four hundred plates, and the richness of nuances found in a series that was built up over a long period of time, between 1857 and 1887. Creating a collection of this type, with this volume and content,
can be explained by the singularity and importance of the Alhambra as a photographic subject and the predominantly commercial focus of Laurent’s photography business.

Laurent’s photographs of the Alhambra, taken in 1871 shortly after it was made a National Monument, are a first in terms of revealing its new appearance after work by restorer Rafael Conteras, and are also a valuable tool for making comparisons and studies with later periods.

One of the most remarkable aspects of the Granada collection in Laurent’s archive is the long time span it covered. Updates and new subjects were added as time passed, probably due to changes in taste and the photography business, and the type of iconography that became popular during each period.
The initial collection was made up of stereoscopic views while in the early 1860s he made his first forays into recording the monuments. At the beginning of the 1870s he substantially expanded the collection, almost exclusively using the Alhambra as a motif.

During the 1880s his business worked to complete the Alhambra and Generalife collection by introducing numerous views of other monuments and urban spaces, unusual themes to date that were probably motivated by the dawn of published printed images and the advantage of introducing innovations that matched new products that were on sale. Thanks to this, the sequence of views
and monuments of Granada, a collection of more than 400 images, is one of the largest that Laurent made of any provincial city.


Luz sobre papel: la imagen de Granada y la Alhambra en las fotografías de J. Laurent. Granada: Patronato de la Alhambra y Generalife, CajaGranada Obra Social, 2007.

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