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This Favoured Land

Edward King-Tenison and Lady Louisa in Spain, 1850–1853

Lee Fontanella

In the wake of the Irish potato famine, Edward King-Tenison, a sometime Irish politician of the liberal order and one of the first masterful photographers of Spain, and his wife, Lady Louisa Mary Anne Anson, the eldest daughter of the 1st Earl of Lichfield, left their estate of Kilronan in County Roscommon, Ireland, to reside and travel in Andalusia and, later, in Castile. The remarkable adventure on which these Irish nobles embarked in mid-nineteenth-century Spain led to a husband-and-wife team of astonishing cultural production. While Tenison focused on photography, Lady Louisa chronicled their travels, producing sketches and establishing relations on an international level with other artists, who collaborated in her illustrated chronicle. This book documents the fascinating travels of this couple and presents their work to a new readership.

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Chapter 4: Sketching and photographing

Extract

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CHAPTER 4

Sketching and photographing

For those whose occupation was the written word and the visual image, as was the case of Louisa Tenison, the decipherment of the Rosetta Stone had likely meant something much more expansive than the just the possibility of translation.1 The tacit message of Champollion’s achievement was that there exists hidden beneath the surface of things, beneath the hieroglyph, whether real or metaphorical, some message about worlds and times barely known, which, by his achievement, had begun to be accessible to others, and in particular to occidental Europe. It meant unlocking space and time in the form of civilizations that spanned many hundreds of years. It would not surprise me to learn that this over-arching purpose may have been at the root of the Tenisons’ ventures both to the Near East and to Spain. Surely, the highly publicized decipherment of the Rosetta Stone eventually piqued interest in sites of ruins in the Near East, and interest in the ruins in the Near East prompted interest in the historic manifestations of “Orientalism” in Spain. Metaphorically speaking, both the Near East and Spain were ideograms that needed to be translated into familiar language: a chronicle, watercolors, sketches. Only photography had a “grammar” that was still unfamiliar, although photography seemed to have a grammar more accessible than that of hieroglyphics, so photography, alongside the written word and sketching, probably could help to clarify the hidden meaning of “exotic Spain”. This meant,...

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