• en
  • fr
Portrait de Hercule Florence - Photographe inconnu, entre 1839 et 1850 Daguerréotype, Support : argent et verre - 11,8 x 9,5 cm Collection C. H. Florence - Leila et Silvia Florence São Paulo, Brésil © Jorge Bastos

Monegasque national Hercule Florence led an extraordinary life. The inventor, who liked to dabble in everything, was a pioneer in photocopying, zoophonia – an art that reproduces animal sounds in the form of musical notation – and, above all, photography.

Born in 1804, adventurer Hercule Florence set off for the New World at the age of 20, sailing on a French frigate. His destination was Brazil. He worked as an apprentice in a shop, and joined Baron von Langsdorff’s expedition, funded by Tsar Alexander I then Tsar Nicholas I. The goal was to explore the interior of Brazil by river, from the Mato Grosso to the Amazon basin.

Hercule Florence was the chronicler of the expedition and kept the ship’s diary, as an illustrator, painter and topographer. He sketched plants, animals and indigenous tribes, some of which had never been depicted before…

It was during this expedition, while studying animal vocalisations, that Hercule Florence invented zoophonia, a transcription system based on the conventions used in classical music. His technique would go on to inspire the researchers who, a century later, gave him the title “father of bioacoustics”.

Page de manuscrit : Essai sur la possibilité d'écrire la voix des animaux, 28 mai 1831 - Stylo et encre, 31,1 x 21,7 x 0,5 cm - Collection C. H. Florence - Leila et Silvia Florence São Paolo, Brésil - © Jorge Bastos
Hercule Florence Sem titulo, s.d. aquarelle et pastel gras sur papier - 23,4 × 37,8 cm - Collection C. H. Florence - Leila et Silvia Florence São Paolo, Brésil - © Jorge Bastos

On his return from the expedition, Hercule Florence settled in the small town of São Carlos (today known as Campinas), in the province of São Paulo. Married to the daughter of a local dignitary, the young man continued his experiments. Keen to print his treatise on zoophonia and with no letterpress studio among his circle of contacts, he invented a new system for duplicating text: polygraphia. He even created a special type of watermarked paper that was impossible to copy so that Brazil could have its own unique currency.

Fascinated by the painting of skies, translucency and chiaroscuro, the Monegasque national tried his hand at “transparent paintings” and created a “Celestial Atlas” comprising 32 watercolours of clouds.

The most remarkable of his experiments, however, involved devising a technique to fix images. From deep in his province of Brazil, he invented a camera obscura, before Niépce and Daguerre came up with their darkroom…

Using photosensitive chemicals, he was able to obtain negatives and then, in 1833, he developed an invention that – long before the term was used in Europe – he christened: “photography or sunlight printing”. Hercule Florence died in 1879, without having returned to the Principality.

Vue d’exposition Hercule Florence. Le Nouveau Robinson / NMNM – Villa Paloma - Premier appareil photographique, chambre à tiroir, 1920 utilisé par Nicéphore Niépce - Collection Musée Nicéphore Niépce, Ville de Chalon-sur-Saône © NMNM/Andrea Rossetti, 2017
Vue d’exposition : Hercule Florence. Le Nouveau Robinson - NMNM – Villa Paloma Hercule Florence - Indien Bororo (portrait – face), s.d. Polygraphie aquarellée / Collection C.H. Florence – Leila et Silvia Florence, São Paulo Photo : NMNM/Andrea Rossetti, 2017

In 2017, the Nouveau Musée National de Monaco devoted an exhibition to this extraordinary researcher, titled “Hercule Florence: the new Robinson”. Fascinated by Daniel Defoe’s hero, the inventor gave himself the nickname, “so aware was he of his cultural isolation”. The majority of the works created by this passionate humanist are still kept in his adopted country of Brazil.

Find out more:

Learn more
Nouveau Musée National de Monaco

Official Website