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Achille Collas (1795-1859)
Born in Paris in 1795, the industrial designer Achille
Collas first came to prominence as the inventor of a machine that
carefully copied the relief and chiaroscuro of medallions and other
bas-relief objects onto engraved steel plates, producing what Collas
called a 'numismatic engraving'. Collas first exhibited samples
obtained with this procedure at the Paris Salon of 1833 winning
widespread acclaim. With the sponsorship of the influential Henriquel
Dupont and Paul Delaroche, he embarked on his major project, the Trésor
de numismatique et de glyptique (1834-50), a mammoth anthology
of engravings of sculpture, reliefs, medals, coins, intaglios and
seals. Collas was invited to employ the same method to reproduce
the British Museum's collection of medals, but the project proved
controversial and was the subject of a House of Commons enquiry.
Critics claimed that Collas's machine produced distortions and
championed an English rival, John Bate, whose 'anaglyptograph'
was said to produce a less artistic but mathematically truer model.
The enquiry proved inconclusive but the British Museum project
fell through. Bate's method prevailed in Great Britain, but Collas,
whose European reputation did not suffer, was responsible for one
major British publication, The Authors of England (1838). This
contained portraits of fourteen contemporary writers including Sir
Walter Scott, Byron, Wordsworth, Coleridge, Shelley,
and Southey, engraved after medallion portraits by Henry Weekes
and E. W. Wyon.
Click on the
thumbnails to see 'numismatic' portraits of Robert Southey
(left) and William Wordsworth (right) obtained via the
Around 1836 Collas developed a new machine permitting
the mathematically precise reduction or enlargement of sculptural
objects in full relief. Three years later he demonstrated its abilities
by producing a two-fifths size reproduction of the Venus de
Milo. His device became the main vehicle for the mass replication
of antique and modern sculptures catering for a growing demand
for inexpensive luxury items to decorate bourgeois interiors. In
1838 he entered into partnership with the manufacturer Ferdinand
Barbedienne (1810-92) and the firm of Collas eventually employed
around 300 workers and produced over a thousand bronzes each year.
They reached an international audience with an acclaimed exhibit
at the Great Exhibition of 1851 in London, which featured as its
centre-piece a half-size reproduction of Ghiberti's principal door
to the Baptistery in Florence. Even after Collas's death in 1859,
his 'method' remained the mainstay of Barbedienne's enduring commercial
success throughout the latter part of the nineteenth century.
- Batchen, Geoffrey. Each Wild Idea: Writing,
Photography, History (Cambridge, Mass.; London: MIT
- Buss, Jacques (ed.). Dictionnaire critique et
documentaire des peintres, sculpteurs, dessinateurs et
graveurs de tous
et de tous les pays (Paris:
- Dictionnaire de biographie française (Paris:
Librairie Letouzey et Ané, 1933- ), IX (1961)
- Fawcett, Trevor. 'Plane Surfaces and Solid
Bodies: Reproducing Three-Dimensional Art in the Nineteenth
Century', in Art History through the Camera's Lens,
ed. Helene E. Roberts, introd. Mary Bergstein (Amsterdam: Gordon
and Breach, 1995), pp. 59-85.
- Nolte, Vincent. 'Memorial of Facts Connected
with the History of Medallic Engraving and the Process of M.
Collas', Museum of Foreign Literature, Science, and Art,
32 (1838), 113-19.
- Sobieszek, Robert A. 'Sculpture as the Sum
of Its Profiles: François Willème and Photosculpture
in France, 1859-1868', Art Bulletin, 62 (1980), 617-30.
- Thieme, Ulrich, and Felix Becker
(eds). Allgemeines Lexikon der Bildenden Künstler:
von der Antike bis zur Gegenwart (Leipzig: Seemann,
- Victoria and Albert Museum. Art & Design
in Europe and America 1800-1900, introd. Simon Jervis
(London: Herbert, 1987)
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Last updated: 02-Feb-2009
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