Complete texts

The Sequence as Articulated Text: The Daveluy Album

The selection of the subjects says something about the overall image that the photographer was creating. That choice explains what the public expected and what the photographer considered relevant. The indifference (or was it censure?) towards certain subjects says something about what people failed to see or simply wanted to ignore. That selection shifted over the decades. Some subjects remained, while others came and went. The incomplete series' were flexible, and a firm such as Neurdein could adjust to shifts in demand. They obediently followed their market and regularly sent photographers out to take new pictures. Completed series, contained in album form, did not have that flexibility, but were all the clearer because of it: once made, the decision was irrevocable. These were moreover limited to the volume of the album and consequently required greater precision. Finally, the sequence of the pictures in the album provided strong accents and indicated how the selection should be read.

In the Daveluy Album (1866, in the Royal Archive), the Belgian king was presented with Bruges in the form of fifteen images. The selection was small and consequently very sharp. These are the photographs: 1) the Belfort taken from the market, 2) the City Hall on the Burg, 3) the Brugse Vrije along the Groenerei, 4) the Groenerei, with a boat, the Van Zuylen tea house and the Belfort (taken from the Langestraat?), 5) the former Saint Donaas Proosdij on the Burg - now the court building, 6) the Jan Van Eyck square and the Academy seen from the Spiegelrei, 7) the statue of Jan Van Eyck, seen with a figure and the Rode Steen house in the background, 8) the Genua House in the Vlamingstraat, seen from the Academiestraat, 9) the Chapel of the Holy Blood along the Burg, 10) the Academiestraat from the Spiegelrei, with a figure, 11) the Toll House and the Genua House at the back, 12) the Vlamingstraat, with the Belfort, the Jerusalem Church and the Peperstraat (taken from the Molenmeers?), 13) the Gate of Paradise of the Church of Our Beloved Lady, the Toll House on Jan Van Eyck Square, and 15) the view of the Belfort and the Brugse Vrije, from the Groenerei, with the Meebrug bridge in the foreground.

One can see how often the Belfort tower returns as an opening theme: in a total of four pictures, numbers 1, 4, 11 and 15. The first opened the series with an imposing portrait taken from the right-hand side of the market square and devoted exclusively to the Belfort. The final photograph summarized the subjects already shown, now under the wing of the Belfort: the Brugse Vrije, a bridge and, implicitly, water. The whole series seems like an arch spanned across a principle motif and its persistent contextualization. The final image no longer shows the Belfort as architecture, but as the ultimate symbol of the city.

Another conclusion is four of the photographs (6,7,10 and 14) were taken from Jan Van Eyck Square. The Academy building received one distinct portrait, the little Toll House appears twice (at the side in nr. 8, as the main subject in nr. 14), and the statue was the explicit subject of one photograph (7). Moving around the Belfort on the Markt, the photographer concentrated mainly on two locations: the Burg itself (2,5 and 9), together with the back of the Burg on the Groenerei (3,4 and 15), and Jan Van Eyck Square. The two exceptions are the Jerusalem Church and the Paradijsportaal. The Vlamingstraat and the Academiestraat (the streets that connect the Markt and consequently the nearby Burg with Jan Van Eyck Square) fill another three pictures. There is consequently a strong spatial connection between the old commercial centre and the centre of government. Religious subjects are in the minority (three images: 9, 12 and 13) and, with the exception of the Blood Chapel adjacent to the Burg (9), were also sought outside the basic locations.

Looking at the social arenas that are implicitly referred to by the locations that were selected, we see that the seat of civil authority was the principle focus. Daveluy was implicitly telling the king a tale of municipal power. With the exception of the Toll House and the Genua House, the centre of commerce was decidedly vague, and that was veiled in artistic significance with the statue of Jan Van Eyck and the Academy building. Finally, the city's religious significance was all but completely muffled. The historically fascinating but parochial little Jerusalem Church is the only church edifice we see at all. Saint Salvador is nowhere to be seen and the Paradijsportaal just a very small, albeit much-loved segment of the Onze-Lieve-Vrouwe church. The transitions between the three social arenas - politic power, commerce and art, and religion - do not follow any clear classification, but are sooner subtly interwoven and alternated.

Placing the selected locations on the physical map of the city, we are also shifted back and forth: from the Markt (1) and the Burg (2,3,4,5) to Jan Van Eyck Square (6,7,8), back to the Burg (9), again back to Jan Van Eyck Square (10,11), a quick excursion to the two external locations (12,13), to return via Jan Van Eyck Square (14) and to finish at the back of the Burg (15). With this trajectory, the photographer drags us back and forth, and he accentuated that movement with four views taken along - through - a street: the Academiestraat (8,10), the Vlamingstraat (11) and the Molenmeers (12). The Groenerei (4,15) and the Spiegelrei (6) show the same kind of topography. He used the true portrait form, the strict exposure of a building, for the Belfort (1), the City Hall (2), the Proosdij (5), the Blood Chapel (9), the Gate of Paradise (13) and the Toll House (14). The series presents a very organic alternation between autonomous elements and contexts. The emphasis of the contexts lies in the streets, not the city square or on the water, which appears three times (3, 4 and 6, with a single bridge in 15).

This was not a city of walks taken along atmospheric spots, but the description of a robust identity relying on monuments that assumed historic and social density. The 19th-century statue of Van Eyck, the 17th-century Proosdij and the exotic Jerusalem Church indicated that the city had not yet developed a monotone neogothic self-image, but embraced historic density and complexity. The album dates back to the time of Boyaval, the liberal city mayor who was inclined to modernize. Twenty years later, the emphasis would have been quite different.

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