guest post by Brian Liddy

First, may I raise a reminder that the Catalogue Raisonné is still in beta and is a very much a work in progress? Bearing that in mind, a current search for “Hagar in the Desert” already brings up a dozen variant negatives. Talbot chose this copy of a lithograph as one of the demonstration pieces in The Pencil of Nature (plate XXIII, part 6, April 1846 – the last fascicle actually published).


The Book of Genesis relates that Abraham called upon his Egyptian handmaid, Hagar to provide him and his wife with a child. But events did not go as planned and once Hagar had given birth, Abraham cast her and her newly-born son Ishmael into the wilderness. Despairing of food and water, at the last minute mother and child were saved by the appearance of an angel who led them to a spring.


I will forego the temptation to use a biblical parched desert setting to remind you how much I dislike hot weather. Instead my interest in Hagar was piqued by how many variants Talbot made of this image (and there will be more to come as further records are posted). He didn’t own the original 17th century pen and ink drawing by the Swiss artist, Pier Francesco Mola, but he took the practical approach of copying an 1816 lithograph published by Johann Nepimuk Strixner.


As with most Talbot photographs, Hagar could provide the springboard for a variety of blog posts. An obvious starting point is Talbot’s text in The Pencil of Nature. He explains that the photographic process could be used to generate “Fac-similies” of original old master drawings. We could speculate whether Talbot had this whole volume in his library (now largely dispersed), for there are other Mola lithographs that he copied. Other blogs could discuss comparative religion, as part of the Old Testament Hagar features in all three of the major Abrahamic religions. Henry was not particularly religious but was fascinated by the migrations of words between cultures. We could take a feminist approach to discuss Hagar as an allegory and a strong female figure (much like Henry’s mother, Lady Elisabeth). Indeed, some have observed that Hagar was an early proponent of surrogacy as she bore a child for another woman who was unable to do so for herself. But there is a danger that each of these potential blog posts would be getting away from this project’s raison d’etre, which is Talbot’s photography. I suppose the point I’m trying to make is that the more I look into each Talbot photograph the more I realise how little I know.

In any case, the variants of Hagar in the Desert give me the ideal platform to demonstrate my favourite function on the Talbot project website: the image comparison tool.

Hagar X9 (enhanced)

At first glance there is little to distinguish between these variants, but with the image comparison tool we can arrange the prints side by side to compare them in detail. To demonstrate, I’ve added nine of the Hagar variants and aligned the left hand edge of the negatives so that the same section of the image is showing side by side. You’ll see that the sleeping Ishmael is sometimes in danger of being excised from the story because the cropping is inconsistent or even seemingly haphazard. For our purposes, this is valuable, for it aids in identifying what negative a particular print was made from. But it does make me wonder if Talbot himself made these negatives, for he would have been acutely aware of the importance of Ishmael, or if the task was turned over to one of Henneman’s assistants who couldn’t quite figure out how to position the slightly larger lithograph (19 x 26 cm) over the typical piece of negative paper (18 x 22 cm).


To compare images, go to the ‘Image Comparison’ button below the right hand side of the image and click to add the image for comparison. Repeat until you’ve completed your selection. Click ‘Compare Images’ and your selected items will array themselves on your screen. You can then move around the individual images at will using the navigation tools in the bottom right corner.


Brian Liddy


• Questions or Comments? Brian Liddy can be reached at brian.liddy@bodleian.ox.ac.uk • Please feel free to contact Prof Schaaf directly at larry.schaaf@bodleian.ox.ac.uk •  Attributed to Nicolaas Henneman, Hagar in the Desert, salted paper print from a photogenic drawing negative, before March 1844, National Museum of Science and Media, Bradford, 1937-1469/2; Schaaf 949. • The original Pier Francesco Mola (1612-1666) drawing is in the Staatliche Graphische Sammlung in Munich. • Johann Nepimuk Strixner, Piloty & Cie, Hagar in the Desert, lithograph copy of the original pen and ink drawing by Mola, Les Oeuvres Lithographiques Contenant un choix de dessins d’apres les grands maitres de toutes les ecoles, tire des musees de sa majeste le Roi de Baviere, plate 4, part 68, edited and published by J. Stuntz, Munich, issued in 72 parts between 1811 and 1816 (part 68 published 1816).