Today I had an amazing opportunity for art historians: I got to take a guided tour of the Fratelli Alinari headquarters here in Florence.
What a story.
What an archive.
As you can read on the sign above, this photographic business began in Florence in 1852. What you might not know is that this firm was the world’s first of its kind.
When you consider that it was only in 1839 that that Louis-Jacques-Mandé Daguerre developed the first commercially viable photographic process, you understand that these Florentine brothers were astute businessmen, beginning their firm in 1852.
If you want a good source of info, go here: http://www.britishmuseum.org/research/search_the_collection_database/term_details.aspx?bioId=185116
The shop is still in its original location in Florence, not far from the train station.
When you pass into the courtyard, you find the company’s bookshop, where you are offered an array of great posters and books, and also the actual entrance to the Alinari business.
Our guide showed my group some of the earliest cameras ever made and described the methods used to make glass plates.
He also showed us some of the rooms where the vast archives are kept, including rooms where the hundreds of thousands of glass plates are stored.
There used to be a museum of the Alinari photographs, but according to Google Maps, it is permanently closed. Fortunately, the online archives are vast.
The Alinari firm was the first to be entrusted with photographing some of the world’s finest collections of art, including the Vatican and the Louvre.
The large object our guide (in green shirt) is showing us was the lens that Alinari built in the 19th century to photograph the Sistine Chapel ceiling. Very impressive.