Exposition au musée

See Italy and Die. Photography and Painting in 19th-Century Italy

From April 07th to July 19th, 2009
Friedrich Nerly
Venise, la place Saint Marc au clair de lune, vers 1842
Hanovre, Niedersächsisches Landesmuseum
© Niedersächsisches Landesmuseum, Hanover / DR
Camille Corot-La vasque de l'Académie de France à Rome
Camille Corot
La vasque de l'Académie de France à Rome, 1826-1827
Beauvais, musée départemental de l'Oise
© RMN-Grand Palais / Hervé Lewandowski

With the invention of photography in 1839, our understanding of the cultural heritage of Italy changed radically. The exhibition See Italy and Die traces the evolution of our concept of landscape, architecture, art and the population of Italy, until then disseminated through the traditional fine arts: painting, drawing, sculpture and prints.
Before Photography
In the 1820s, Rome attracted a generation of painters who adopted the principles of landscape painting, revived at the end of the 18th century by the French artist Pierre Henri de Valenciennes and the Englishman Thomas Jones. These painters appreciated nature for itself without the need for any literary, religious or mythological pretext. They included Camille Corot and Léon Cogniet who brought back many sketches and small paintings from their rambles.

John Ruskin (avec John Hobbes ?)-Venise, palazzo Ducale avec soldats
John Ruskin (avec John Hobbes ?)
Venise, palazzo Ducale avec soldats, entre 1845 et 1852
Collection Ken & Jenny Jacobson
© Courtesy of K. and J. Jacobson, UK

Daguerreian Travels in Italy
Daguerre's invention, revealed to the public in Paris in 1839, caused a great stir in Italy, as it did all over Europe. Drawings obtained by means of a camera obscura captured only the contours of the landscape, faithfully rendering proportion and perspective, but unable to reproduce the chiaroscuro. The daguerreotype's ability to reproduce nature "objectively", without the creative intervention of an artist, made it a valuable tool, combining efficiency and precision.
Sought after by amateurs, it also inspired several publishing projects. Between1841 and 1843, the French optician Noël-Marie Paymal Lerebours published Daguerreian Travels: the world's most remarkable views and monuments illustrated with aquatints based on daguerreotypes. However, some manual intervention was still considered necessary and views were "animated" with characters that could not be fixed on the daguerreian plate because of the long exposure time required.

John Ruskin (avec Frederick Crawley ?)-Vieille tour à Arona, sur le lac Majeur
John Ruskin (avec Frederick Crawley ?)
Vieille tour à Arona, sur le lac Majeur, vers 1858
Collection Ken & Jenny Jacobson
© Courtesy of K. and J. Jacobson, UK

The Italian photographer Ferdinando Artaria with his Views of Italy through the Daguerreotype undertook the same kind of project, whereas the British photographer Alexander John Ellis started a similar enterprise for which he collected more than one hundred and fifty plates produced by himself, or acquired from other operators. John Ruskin put together a major collection of daguerreotypes, some of which he used alongside his own drawings and watercolours in his famous work The Stones of Venice.

Giacomo Caneva-Tivoli, cascade de l'Aniene
Giacomo Caneva
Tivoli, cascade de l'Aniene, vers 1850
Musée d'Orsay
© Musée d’Orsay, Dist. RMN-Grand Palais / Patrice Schmidt
See the notice of the artwork

The Roman School of Photography

Nowadays known as The Roman School of Photography, a small group in the early 1850s used to meet regularly at the Caffè Greco, in the via dei Condotti, to exchange ideas about the new paper negative techniques, and to work together, like the groups of calotypists that appeared at that time in France and in England.
Their relationship with the world of painting, where some had started out, influenced the way they looked at things, as it did with most of the early photographers. However, although their visual interpretation of the city had its roots in the traditions of landscape painting, they achieved original results using the photographic techniques that were the focus of their concerns.

Frédéric Flachéron (1813?R1883)-Rome. La colonne de Phocas et l'arc de Septime Sévère au Forum, l'église Santa Luca e Martina, et le temple de Vespasien
Frédéric Flachéron (1813?R1883)"
Rome. La colonne de Phocas et l'arc de Septime Sévère au Forum, l'église Santa Luca e Martina, et le temple de Vespasien, 1849
Collection Paula and Robert Hershkowitz
© Paula and Robert Hershkowitz

Whether they were French like Frédéric Flachéron, Alfred-Nicolas Normand and Eugène Constant, British like James Anderson or Italian like Giacomo Caneva, they all took part in one common project: photographing Rome, documenting the architecture and views of the city.
However the calotype was not exclusive to the Eternal City, as its use was developing throughout Italy. But whereas the daguerreotype was instantly a commercial success, the calotype was mainly of interest to a more exacting public, with more highly developed artistic sensibilities.

Gioacchino Altobelli-Rome, clair de lune sur le Forum
Gioacchino Altobelli
Rome, clair de lune sur le Forum, vers 1865
Kalamata, Grèce, collection particulière
© Musée d’Orsay, Dist. RMN-Grand Palais / DR

The Grand Tour

From 1860, there was an extraordinary boom in tourism in Italy. The middle classes were the next enthusiasts of the "Grand Tour", a kind of rite of passage, which, from the end of the 16th century, had been very popular with the English and French ruling classes. In the 19th century, the attraction of the peninsular was revived by the excavations of Pompeii and Herculaneum, and maintained by the vogue for travel literature.

Carlo Naya-Venise au clair de lune
Carlo Naya
Venise au clair de lune, vers 1875
Guilford, collection Bruce Lundberg
© Robert J. Hennessey

Photographers of this period adopted the process using collodion glass negatives and albumen paper prints, much easier to use than the daguerreotype or the calotype. At the time, there were many studios in the cities producing photographs aimed at tourists. Carlo Naya in Venice, the Alinari brothers in Florence, Robert MacPherson and Gioacchino Altobelli in Rome, Giorgio Sommer and Alphonse Bernoud in Naples, to name only the most famous, offered souvenir images to these enthusiastic travellers: collections of city views, monuments and the masterpieces of the museums. This practice was very widespread until the 1880s, when the development of photographic techniques enabled amateurs to produce their own souvenir albums.

Giovanni Fattori-La sentinelle
Giovanni Fattori
La sentinelle, 1871
Collection particulière
© D.R.

The Risorgimento
In 1815, following the Congress of Vienna, Italy was divided up into seven states. The quest to unify Italy was one of the great national movements of the 19th century. Known as the Risorgimento (Rebirth), many intellectuals and artists joined the movement, giving it their support and portraying it in their work. Many photographers were part of this, as well as painters such as Girolamo Induno and Giovanni Fattori.
Early on, in 1848-1849, the patriots attempted to free several states from the control of the Austrians and the Pope, but were eventually crushed. Stefano Lecchi's photographs provide valuable evidence of the defence of Rome and of the destruction suffered by the city, defended by Garibaldi.

Gustave Le Gray-Palerme. Rue de Tolède
Gustave Le Gray
Palerme. Rue de Tolède, juin 1860
Guilford, collection Bruce Lundberg
© Robert J. Hennessey

Ten years later, between 1859 and 1861 the task of unification was taken up again, and was successful thanks to the fervour of the people spurred on by Cavour, and thanks to the support of Napoleon III. The movement aroused great international sympathy, and many foreigners came to Garibaldi's assistance, forming the Red Shirt volunteer force (also known as i Mille) that conquered Sicily and Naples in 1860. Alexander Dumas went there, accompanied by Gustave Le Gray who produced an extraordinary photo-reportage on the ruins and barricades set up in Palermo.
By 1870 only Rome remained outside the Italian kingdom. The collapse of the French Empire deprived Pope Pius IX of his greatest support, and the Italians made their entry into Rome where a decree was signed ending the papacy's temporal power. The annexation of the Papal States was ratified by a plebiscite and, on 26 January 1871, Rome became the capital of unified Italy.

Giorgio Sommer-Pompéi, empreinte humaine
Giorgio Sommer
Pompéi, empreinte humaine, 1868
Kalamata, Grèce, collection particulière
© Musée d’Orsay, Dist. RMN-Grand Palais / DR

The Archaeological Eye
Artists and travellers seeking an "authentic" view of Classical times were particularly fond of the discoveries at Pompeii and Herculaneum. The majority of photographs consisted of deserted sites portrayed with a melancholic poetry. Many were the work of British or French travellers, and of photographers based in Naples: Michele Amodio, Alphonse Bernoud, Roberto Rive and Giorgio Sommer. Sommer had worked on occasions with Giuseppe Fiorelli who was in charge of the excavations from 1860. Sommer particularly photographed the moulds produced by Fiorelli who poured plaster into the empty spaces left by bodies trapped in the lava.
On 26 April 1872, Sommer recorded, at half hour intervals, the stages of the eruption of Vesuvius. His images demonstrate great sobriety compared with the dramatic, poetic and romantic approaches favoured by the painters.

Giorgio Sommer-Eruption du Vésuve, 26 avril 1872, 41⁄2 p.m.
Giorgio Sommer
Eruption du Vésuve, 26 avril 1872, 4½ p.m.
Kalamata, Grèce, collection particulière
© Musée d’Orsay, Dist. RMN-Grand Palais / DR

Focusing less on the taste of the tourists, photographic production based on the Roman sites had a more scientific objective, that of documenting the discoveries. Thus, between 1865 and 1877, the British archaeologist John Henry Parker, had photographs taken of the medieval and ancient buildings and works of art discovered during the excavations of the Palatine, the Forum in Rome and the Caracalla baths. These photographs, often austere representations of fragments of architecture, would serve to illustrate his twelve volume work: The Archeology of Rome, a valuable testimony of an aspect of the Roman capital that disappeared when the city was modernised.

Paul Delaroche-Les pèlerins à Rome
Paul Delaroche
Les pèlerins à Rome, 1842
PoznaT, Muzeum Narodowne Fundacji im Raczynkich
© Muzeum Narodowe, Poznan

The Italian People and Artists' Models
In 19th century Italy, most travellers avoided mixing with the local population. On the one hand, they admired these heirs of Antiquity, these "children of nature" whose lives were untouched by civilisation; on the other hand, they adopted a condescending attitude towards those they regarded as rough, unpredictable peasants. This ambivalence was reflected in many accounts of travels, including those by Maximilien Misson, often quoted in the 19th century although it was published in the early 18th century, and which evoked "A Paradise peopled with Devils and Madonnas". Photography led to the emergence of many stereotypical images of the inhabitants of Italy: travelling musicians (pifferari), water carriers, public scribes, homeless Neapolitan beggars (lazzarone) and

Edmond Lebel-Modèle pour sa peinture, Petite marchande de figue et de noix
Edmond Lebel, Désiré Lebel
Modèle pour "Petite marchande de figues", entre 1863 et 1869
Musée d'Orsay
2006, acquis par l'Etablissement public du musée d'Orsay de la librairie Serge Plantureux, Paris
© Musée d’Orsay, Dist. RMN-Grand Palais / Patrice Schmidt
See the notice of the artwork

other pasta eaters.
To sustain their creative output, painters and sculptors were always on the lookout for these images, which, more often than not, were reconstituted for their own purposes. Some genre scenes showing Italian peasants seem to be directly inspired by photographic models, particularly in the paintings of Edmond Lebel, a French painter, who was himself a photographer. Artists' Studies signed by Filippo Belli, Giacomo Caneva, A. de Bonis or Gustave Eugène Chauffourier were among the most sought after.

Arnold Böcklin-Ruine au bord de la mer
Arnold Böcklin
Ruine au bord de la mer, 1880
Aarau, Aargauer Kunsthaus / Depositum der Gottfried Keller-Stiftung
© Aargauer Kunsthaus Aarau

Pictorialist Rêverie
At the turn of the century, pictorialism, an international movement, aimed to promote photography as a form of artistic expression equal to painting. Far removed from commercial preoccupations, the photographers in the pictorialist movement used their technical skills for their own creative work.
The most important pictorialist images taken in Italy came from two members of the Vienna Camera Club, Heinrich Kühn and Hugo Henneberg. Henneberg's landscapes, in their structure and format, recall the Symbolist paintings of Arnold Böcklin and Hans Thoma. Kühn's work had a more dramatic, even theatrical, style.

Wilhelm von Gloeden-Caïn
Wilhelm von Gloeden
Caïn, 1913
Vienne, Westlicht Museum / Peter Coeln
© Westlicht Museum, Viena / Peter Coeln

Bridges, found everywhere in the world of the pictorialists, can be seen in the heavily-shadowed compositions by Alvin Langdon Coburn, whereas the photogravures of James Craig Annan create atmospheres that takes the viewer to the edge of what is real and what is imaginary.
To his contemporaries, Wilhelm von Gloeden's outdoor nudes evoked the rebirth of an Arcadia close to Arnold Böcklin's bucolic world inhabited by fauns. Their value as a symbol of a male, homosexual culture that was deliberately ignored, led these nudes to be considered as representative of a lost paradise, and used as models in art schools.