The Library of Nineteenth-Century Photography

Sarah Bernhardt as 'Theodora'

Sarah Bernhardt as 'Theodora'

A cabinet card portrait of the French actress Sarah Bernhardt, seen here as the Empress of Byzantium in Victorien Sardou's 'Théodora', written especially for her. The play was a huge hit in 1884 and was renowned as much for its Byzantine splendour as for its action. The costumes worn by the palace guards (observed a dazzled journalist) cost over 300 francs apiece. In the scene set in the Imperial box at the Hippodrome, Sarah wore a dress of sky-blue satin with a train four yards long, covered with embroidered peacocks with ruby eyes and feathers of emeralds and sapphires.

A shameless self-publicist throughout her long career, 'The Divine Sarah' was photographed time and again by all the best photographers in the world, invariably demanding to be paid up front, rather than accepting a percentage of the profits. At the same time, of course, she was wielding photography to foster her fame, skilfully manipulating her public image. As famous a personality as she was an actress, the public were avid for details of her eccentric behaviour - she kept a menagerie of exotic animals and sometimes slept in a coffin - her temper tantrums and her violent feuds, not to mention her many love affairs.

Photographed by Nadar of Paris.

Code: 126040
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© Paul Frecker 2018