Friday, August 12, 2016


This postcard portrait of a woman who signed only her first name was addressed to one Señora Doña Leonora de Esteban in Castro Urdiales in northern Spain. There's no date or trace of a stamp or postmark; the elegantly-penned inscription reads "To demonstrate once again the love that your friend professes for you, she dedicates to you this little memento." María was clearly not only well educated but possibly (if the desk is any indication) an educator. She wears heavy, dark clothing with an elaborate embroidered motif. I imagine her as unmarried, part of a nascent class of independent female professionals, writing to a former colleague who had married and moved away, but that's basically nothing but speculation. I'm not sure if this portrait was taken in a studio or (more likely) on location, but the use of the window to open up the background is an effective touch.

Rafael A. Idelmón, a native of Madrid, opened a photographic studio in Valladolid in January 1860 and another in Palencia four years later; his descendants were reportedly still in business at least until 1927, and a living descendant named Enrique del Rivero Cuesta is active as a professional photographer, continuing a family association with the camera lasting more than a century and a half. The portrait of María is presumably from the first decades of the twentieth century, and may be the work of one of Rafael's sons or an employee of the firm. I'm not sure what the initials G.I.F.A.G. stand for, though I'm guessing that they indicate membership in a gremio or trade association.

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