23 February To September 3rd Exhibition Hall of the Department of Prints and Drawings

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. From 23 February to 3 September 2023, the Städel Museum is presenting a selection of early photographs of Italy. The exhibition unites altogether ninety major photos of the years 1850 to 1880 from the museum’s own collection, taking visitors on a photographic tour along the best-known routes with stops in Milan, Venice, Florence, Rome, and Naples.

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..

Philipp Demandt, director of the Städel Museum, on the exhibition: “‘Images of Italy’ invites visitors along on a photographic journey: from Milan, Venice, and Florence to Rome and Naples. At the same time, the show offers insights into the history of the Städel Museum’s photography collection. Johann David Passavant, the museum’s director at the time, recognized the possibility of providing unlimited access to artworks and cultural treasures with the help of the photography medium early on—thus upholding our founder Johann Friedrich Städel’s guiding principle in splendid manner.”

“The exhibition retraces the unique history of the development of photography in nineteenth-century Italy. The first section looks at how the medium entered the Städel Museum in the form of collection items and took on ever greater importance in connection with the emerging tourist industry. From there the show proceeds to images of Italy’s most important destinations, thus presenting a comprehensive—and singularly striking—stocktaking of its cultural landscape in the period in question. The sights of those days still attract the photographic eye today. The views are often the same ones we travel to now,” comments exhibition curator Kristina Lemke.

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