Guide to the Bonfils Studio Photograph Albums of Palestine, circa 1881
Collection consists of two large cloth-bound photograph albums dating from circa 1881, housing 56 large albumen photographs taken by noted 19th century French photographer Félix Bonfils, who owned the Bonfils studio, and his Syrian assistant Georges Saboungi. The images were sold as souvenirs, and portray cities and towns, landscapes, ruins, monuments, tombs, and other religious and historic sites of Palestine, in areas now occupied by Israel, Lebanon, and Syria. Locations named in the captions include Beirut, Bethlehem, Cana, Damascus, Galilee, the Holy Sepulchre shrine, Jaffa, Jerusalem, the Mosque of Omar at the Dome of Rock, the Mount of Olives, Mount Tabor, Nazareth, Samaria, the Tomb of David, the Wailing Wall, the interior of the house of the English Consul in Damascus, a "crusader's tower" in the village of Ramleh, and various other sites.
- Collection Number
- Bonfils studio photograph albums of Palestine
- circa 1881
- Bonfils, Félix, 1831-1885
- 3 Linear Feet, 2 volumes
- David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library
- Material in English
These two large photograph albums were owned by Wilbur E. Hagans, who toured the area of Palestine known as the Holy Lands around 1881. He purchased dozens of souvenir albumen prints from the studio, then upon his return had the cloth-bound albums assembled in New York. The 56 images date from about 1881 and were taken by noted 19th-century French photographer Félix Bonfils, who owned the Bonfils studio, and his Syrian assistant Georges Saboungi. They portray cities and towns, landscapes, ruins, monuments, tombs, and other religious and historic sites of Palestine, in areas now occupied by Israel, Lebanon, and Syria. Locations named in the captions include Beirut, Bethlehem, Cana, Damascus, Galilee, the Holy Sepulchre shrine, Jaffa, Jerusalem, the Mosque of Omar at the Dome of Rock, the Mount of Olives, Mount Tabor, Nazareth, Samaria, the Tomb of David, the Wailing Wall, the interior of the house of the English Consul in Damascus, a "crusader's tower" in the village of Ramleh, and various other sites. In some cases there are small figures visible among the landscapes, but these are the only individuals present in the images.
The two albums measure 14 x 18 inches (37 x 47.5 centimeters); Volume I holds 30 albumen prints, while Volume II holds 26 prints. The prints all measure 9 x 11 inches (22 x 28 centimeters) and are affixed to card mounts, one per print. Some show signs of fading, but most are in good condition. Each print bears the name of one of two photographers: Félix Bonfils (18 prints), or Georges Saboungi (38 prints); some prints are also marked with an identification number assigned by the studio, and these have been included in the inventory.
Access to the Collection
Collection is open for research.
Use & Permissions
The copyright interests in this collection have not been transferred to Duke University. For more information, consult the copyright section of the Regulations and Procedures of the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library.
How to Cite
[Identification of item], Bonfils studio photograph albums of Palestine, David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Duke University.
The photographer's name appears following the title for each print. All titles are taken from the original captions; original French captions have not been transcribed but appear with each print. When known, the image negative numbers assigned by the studio have been included in the description; all of these were taken by Félix Bonfils. Box 1 contains information on the collection, including photocopied articles on the history of the Bonfils photography studio.
Félix Bonfils (1831-1885) was a French-born photographer who migrated to Beirut, Lebanon around 1867, where he opened a studio named "Maison Bonfils" together with his wife, Lydie Bonfils (1837-1918), who was also a photographer. They changed the name to Bonfils et Cie in 1878. Studio assistants included the Bonfils's son Adrien (1860-1929), who in 1878 took over the photographic work while his parents ran the studios, and the Syrian brothers Georges and Louis Saboungi.
The studio produced photographic views of Egypt, Palestine, Syria, and Greece, totaling an estimated 15,000 single prints; they were also sold as stereographic views and in albums. They became much sought after by tourists and publishers, and in the wake of this success, other Bonfils studios opened in Alexandria, Cairo, and in Alés, France, where Félix Bonfils died in 1885. His son Adrien and wife Lydie continued to operate the studios; Adrien quit the business sometime around 1900, but Lydie continued to manage it until World War I forced her to flee Beirut in 1916, taking many of the Bonfils plates and prints with her.
- Harvard Semitic Museum Photographic Archives [many Bonfils images](Harvard University Libraries)
- Brünnow Papers [about 800 Bonfils images](Princeton University Library)
Click to find related materials at Duke University Libraries.
- Architecture -- Middle East -- Photographs
- Cities and towns -- Middle East -- Photographs
- Monuments -- Middle East -- Photographs
- Photographers -- Palestine
- Photographers -- Middle East
- Tombs -- Middle East -- Photographs
- Middle East -- Antiquities -- Photographs
- Middle East -- Photographs
- Palestine -- Antiquities
- Palestine -- Photographs
The Bonfils studio photograph albums of Palestine were received by the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library in 1965.
Processed by Sara Reams, May 2014
Encoded by Paula Jeannet and Sara Reams, May 2014
Accession(s) described in this finding aid: 7-28-65