The Granite Dish in the Berlin Lustgarten (1831 – eight years before the official presentation of the medium photography), oil on canvas, 66 x 89 cm, Alte Nationalgalerie, Berlin. All works by art professor, painter and graphic artist Johann Erdmann Hummel (1769-1852).
As described by Peter Galassi and Kirk Varnedoe some paintings and sketches of the late 18th and early19th centuries seemed to anticipate photographic techniques. It has never become clear whether this apparent anticipation of the practices of photography was the result of the increased use of those drawing aids that were the precursors to photography – the camera obscura and the camera lucida – or whether it resulted from a change in attitude towards representation which itself made the time ripe for the invention of photography.
On November 6, 1828, the prefabricated bowl, made of 1420 million years old red Karlshamn granite, reached its destination in Fürstenwalde. The huge bowl was ordered by King Friedrich Wilhelm III, who, as a symbol of Prussian supremacy, wanted to build the biggest bowl in the world. The final grinding to give it the desired shape and polish was carried out by means of a steam engine and took about 2,5 years to finish. In 1831, the appr. 75-tons ‘Biedermeier-Weltwunder’ was transported about 80 kilometers to its destination on the Berlin Museum Island. It was considered a highly technical marvel of processing and transport. Since it did not fit in the rotunda of the old museum, it was placed in front of the outside staircase in a semicircle of the ‘pleasure garden’.
With his scientific eye and his fascination for the complexity of the convex, concave and plane mirrors, Hummel captured in several oil paintings and sketches the grinding, turning and setting up of the exquisite solitaire. He combined the central perspective with the mirror effect of 360 degrees in order to simultaneously represent a simple pictorial space and a multi-layered space. Objectively, clearly and soberly, he constructed his works mathematically and stereometrically so precisely that realistic, almost photographic reproductions were created.