Author unknown: Rabbi and His Wife, ca. 1855
Pannotype in original framing, 153 by 129 mm
Provenance: from the collection of the Jewish Museum in Prague, 1906-1939
Accession no. JMP 79.629
The photograph is one of only two portraits executed by a rare process known as pannotype in the Jewish Museum in Prague’s recently organized collection of historical photography. Though unsigned and undated, the image most likely comes from the mid-1850s and captures an unknown middle-aged married couple: a rabbi (or cantor), attired in a manner common for adherents of Reform Judaism, and his wife, resting her left forearm on her husband’s right shoulder, both staring straight into the camera with a fixed, solemn gaze. The photograph has a typical framing: a pasteboard mat with a thick golden border along the oval cutout covered by a decorative glass of imitation tortoiseshell.
Pannotype is one of the rarest historical photographic techniques. It was a direct positive process (methods for transferring direct positive always resulted in an unique, irreproducible print) whereby the glass plate bearing the image (collodion layer / collodion negative) was transferred onto a dark secondary material (usually black oilcloth, but sometimes black leather or black enameled paper instead): the light negative would therefore appear as a positive on the dark material. Because the photographic image was most often transferred to cloth, the technique became known as pannotype, derived from pannus, the Latin for cloth (or piece of fabric). It was widely in use from the mid-1850s to the start of the 1860s.