opera diva Madame Medori, 1857

Opera Diva Madame Medori by Mathew B. Brady, ca 1857

Brady was a skilled daguerreotypist, having learned the technical aspects of the process from the American pioneers of the medium, Samuel F. B. Morse and John Draper. He opened his first studio in 1844 and set himself the task of photographing the nation’s leading figures: presidents and military men, business leaders, writers, artists, and stars of the stage. In the mid-1850s Brady and other artists began using collodion-on-glass negatives, or wet plates, and soon the glass negative and paper print replaced the daguerreotype altogether as the means by which Brady gathered and distributed the faces of his time. This salted paper print of an opera diva known as Madame Medori was meticulously retouched with India ink and white paint to sharpen and darken the stripes on the sitter’s billowing shawl, the flowers and fern fronds woven into her hair and shawl knot, and the highlights in the folds of her silk dress. The combination of painterly embellishment and photographic verisimilitude is managed perfectly-a pictorial effect few other portraitists of the period could achieve.

source: MET Museum

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