|'Vandyke brown' silver-iron print on gelatin-sized paper., ca. 1896|
Signed by the photographer, in graphite, recto; signed "F.M. Sutcliffe / Whitby", & titled by him in ink, and annotated "Vandyke Brown" by him, in graphite, verso.
Because of the heavily gelatin-sized thick paper, this is an exceptionally rich print with great depth and wide tonality. It's large size augments the perception of depth and space, important to the composition. A smaller version in toned matte-surface gelatin-silver is known, and is flat by comparison.
"Quo Vadis?" is something of a riddle in Sutcliffe's extensive and distinguished career, one which extended from the 1870s to the 1930s. Stylistically, It is a striking departure from Sutcliffe's best-known pictures, which usually depict populated scenes in his native Whitby. In addition, while "Quo Vadis?" became his second-best selling photograph, today, there are very few known prints of this image.
The full meaning of the image has yet to be understood. The title (Latin for "Where are you going?") may refer to a New Testament verse which bears that phrase, or it may refer to a very different story, one told in an historical novel published in 1896, or it may have a non-religious meaning. The mystery, together with the photograph's visual beauty, is the key to its genius.
We appreciate, and paraphrase, the American Museum of Photography as a significant source of this interpretation.