Daguerre’s contribution to the invention of photography almost entirely eclipsed his activity as a painter. This masterpiece dating from 1824 is one of the few works which have survived. This architectural view with its brilliant chiaroscuro effects is contemporary with a large-scale version, without figures, presented the same year in Paris within the framework of the Diorama sound and light shows on the Rue Samson (where Daguerre developed his photographic process a few years later).
Daguerre co-founded the Diorama with Charles-Marie Bouton, and it became extraordinarily popular. He exhibited smaller-scale versions of the great compositions presented there at several Salons: notably the Ruins of Holyrood Chapel by Moonlight, which resembles another Diorama scene (also exhibited in 1824) now in the Walker Art Gallery in Liverpool. Despite their titles in the Salon brochures, these smaller-scale versions, which were sometimes painted after the large canvases, should generally be considered as variations on the themes which made these shows so popular, rather than as preparatory works.
Rosslyn Chapel is one of Scotland’s legendary medieval sites. The picturesque qualities of this fabulous monument made it very famous during the Romantic Period. Walter Scott referred to it in The Lay of the Last Minstrel (1805), and a watercolour by John Adam Houston represents the writer sitting in the chapel. Many British watercolourists, notably John Michael Gandy, David Roberts and John Ruskin, painted views of the interior of the monument between the 1820s and the middle of the century.
After its presentation in Paris, the Diorama of Rosslyn Chapel was exhibited in London, Dublin, Liverpool and Edinburgh between 1826 and 1835. It was a huge success, as we know from articles in the press of the period. Bagpipes were played during the show, and shadowy effects were used to heighten the illusion.