Cranium Architecture


Gelatin silver print mounted on thin cardboard. Vintage

59.1 x 47.8 cm (23 1/4 x 18 13/16 in.)

In 1986, during a visit to Prague’s Národní Muzeum, Irving Penn became interested in the animal skull collection on display and decided to dedicate a photographic series to it. Entitled Cranium Architecture, the work takes the “portraits” of more than twenty mammals made unrecognisable, from gorillas to lions and tapirs.
Despite a diverse range of shapes and perspectives, frontal, lateral or diagonal, the photographer keeps aesthetic consistency in a biased view of great simplicity with a closed frame, giving all its importance to the unique motif taken close-up. Photographic black and white underlines each time spectral and sculptural beauty, expressed in strong chiaroscuro. And beyond their formal aesthetics, these versions of animal skulls placed side by side appear like just as many modern memento mori, at a time of photographic reproducibility.

Acquired by the Pinault Collection, the multiple photographs of the Cranium Architecture series were presented at the 2015-2016 “Irving Penn, Resonance” exhibition held at the Palazzo Grassi, Venice.