Written in Sunlight
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Collection C.H. Florence – Leila et Silvia Florence/Jorge Bastos/motivo, São Paulo
Art

Written in Sunlight

The Curious Life of Hércules Florence
Katarzyna Sroczyńska
Reading
time 21 minutes

He invented photography before Daguerre. He travelled across the Amazon jungle, found a way to document the songs of birds without audio recording, and reproduced political pamphlets without the aid of a printing press. And yet, he was forgotten by the world for over a century.

“I am certain that printing using sunlight will be possible in the future,” Florence noted on 15th January 1833. The French inventor was in his late twenties. He was sitting at his desk in a picturesque Brazilian fazenda in São Carlos, a small town with a population of several thousand, 96 kilometres north of São Paulo. The summer was in full bloom. It was a time when many Europeans were trying to capture the light of the sun on paper, among them the painter Louis Jacques Daguerre. How come everyone knows Daguerre’s name and almost nobody has heard of Hércules Florence, even though he was the first to harness the sunlight? It was the surrealist artist André Breton who wrote that: “The greatest weakness of contemporary thought seems to lie in the extravagant overstatement of the known versus what is left to know.” Hércules Florence would probably agree.

Becoming Robinson Crusoe

Antoine Hércules Romuald Florence was born in Nice on 29th February 1804 – a date both special and unfortunate, as he could only celebrate his actual birthday once every four years. The age of industrial and scientific revolution was on the rise. Just a few days prior, the first steam locomotive journey took place in Abercynon in Wales. One month after Florence’s birth the Code civil des Français (also known as the Napoleonic Code) was drafted – it was the first modern legal code in Europe. When Napoleon Bonaparte was crowned emperor of the French, Hércules was already strong enough to keep his head up straight for a long while and look around without help. His remarkable sense of observation would remain one of his most beneficial qualities throughout life.

Hércules Florence

His father Arnoud was an army surgeon and drawing teacher who passed away three years after his son’s birth. His mother, Augustine, was originally from Monaco. As the boy started showing

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