The William Henry Fox Talbot Catalogue Raisonné


Object within Schaaf no. 3611

Assyrian Cuneiform clay tablet

Object details

Created: Between 1 Mar 1854 and 31 Jul 1854

Image size: h 19.3cm x w 19.2cm

Object Type: Salted Paper Print

Inscription: inscribed in the negative, 184a; additional pencil notes, recto, in Talbot's hand

Matilda Talbot 1934

Owner: National Science and Media Museum

Object owner number: 1937-4105

Collection: Science Museum Collection

This object is part of Schaaf no. 3611

Assyrian Cuneiform clay tablet

Although this photograph of an archaic Assyrian cuneiform tablet was taken by Roger Fenton (1819-1869) and not by Talbot, or one of his close circle, it is one of a series which was owned by Talbot and used by him in his attempts to decipher what was then a lost language.

The original cuneiform tablets are held by the British Museum, and Fenton was employed by the British Museum to photograph parts of its collections in 1854.

Talbot acquired a set of Fenton's photographs of the museum's Assyrian cuneiform tablets between 1863 and 1864. Talbot's use of these photographs to attempt to decipher the lost Assyrian language is clear as he made notes relating to the meaning of the Assyrian tablets directly onto the photographs, sometimes both front and back. This not only illustrates Talbot's interest in linguistics, but also illustrates a role Talbot anticipated for photography, which was the ease of sharing knowledge and information between academics without having to rely on the individual's skill as a draughstman.