The ruins of the Acrop­o­lis ap­pear to stand si­lent­ly in Fe­lix Alexan­der Op­pen­heim’s pho­to­graphs from 1853. No peo­ple are vis­i­ble, and mod­ern-day Athens re­mains out of view. In 1854 for­ty-two of his pho­to­graphs were pub­lished in the large-for­mat al­bum Athe­nien­sische Al­terthümer, de­vid­ed in­to two vol­umes: Die Akropo­lis and De­tails der Akropo­lis. The Mu­se­um Lud­wig holds one of the two sur­viv­ing copies; the se­cond is at the J. Paul Get­ty Mu­se­um in Los An­ge­les.

Like Paul de Rosti, whose pho­to­graphs from South Amer­i­ca for Alexan­der von Hum­boldt the Mu­se­um Lud­wig pre­sent­ed last year, the lawy­er Op­pen­heim learned pho­tog­ra­phy from Gus­tave Le Gray in Paris. Pre­vi­ous­ly a ju­ry in Cologne had ac­quitt­ed him and his friend Fer­d­i­nand Las­salle of steal­ing doc­u­ments, thus pre­clud­ing any pos­si­bil­i­ty of a le­gal ca­reer. And so Op­pen­heim trav­eled. But the much-cit­ed “si­lent gran­deur” of the an­cient relics, as cap­tured by Op­pen­heim, does not ob­s­cure the traces of loot­ing and de­struc­tion, as well as archae­o­log­i­cal re­cov­ery. For in­s­tance, in his in­tro­duc­to­ry texts Op­pen­heim speaks of the “ge­nius and great mas­tery with which the an­cients knew how to treat this branch of art [sculp­ture]” and at the same time of “rum­mag­ing in for­eign coun­tries” and the “ab­duc­tion” of sculp­tures.

For the first time, the full al­bum will be on view. It re­veals a mo­ment in his­to­ry when the en­thu­si­asm for an­tiqui­ty, ear­ly arche­ol­o­gy, the Greek sym­bol politics, and the strug­gle for right­ful own­er­ship cre­at­ed for th­ese si­lent ruins a con­text rich in words and im­ages.