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Images of Italy
Places of Longing in Early Photography

23 Feb 2023–3 Sept 2023

About the Exhibition

Gondoliers on the Grand Canal, the Leaning Tower of Pisa, and the antiquities of Rome: Numerous photographs by Giorgio Sommer, the Alinari brothers, Carlo Naya, and Robert Macpherson, among others, shaped the image of Italy as a place of longing. The Städel Museum presented a selection of early photographs of Italy. The exhibition united altogether ninety major photos of the years 1850 to 1880 from the museum’s own collection.

People have been dreaming their way to Italy for generations: the Mediterranean climate, multifaceted natural environment, and wealth of culture and art treasures have long since made the country a favourite travel destination. When the development of the railway system led to a boom in tourism in the second half of the nineteenth century, photography studios opened in the vicinity of the most popular sights. Even before the invention of the picture postcard, the photographic views on sale there were a prized souvenir for travellers, and also sold internationally by mail order.

Johann David Passavant, then director of the Städel, began purchasing photos for the museum’s collection as far back as the 1850s. From these prints, both the art-interested public and students of the affiliated art academy were able to get an idea of southern Europe and its artistic and natural treasures. This brought distant countries closer while, simultaneously, the motifs in circulation determined what was considered worth seeing. To this day, the sceneries captured in photographs at that time continue to have an impact.

Dr. Kristina Lemke (Head of Photography, Städel Museum)

Discover the works of the exhibition in the Digital Collection.