The 1890s in Florence


Panorama da San Miniato, quanto gli alberi erano ancora bassi e si poteva osservare meglio il panorama.  View of Florence from San Miniato, when the trees were still low and you could better see the panorama.




Giardini della Fortezza. Famiglia in posa per una foto ricordo. Anno 1910. Gardens of the Fortezza di Basso, a family posing for a picture in 1910.




Lo struscio sul Ponte Vecchio. Strolling on the Ponte Vecchio.


Borgo Ognissanti, negozio Sale e Tabacchi del 1910.

Alice Austen, photographer

Photographed here is a beautifully-dressed Alice Austen:


Alice Austen

Documentary photographer

Alice Austen was born to wealth on Staten Island, but ended her life in poverty.CreditFriends of Alice Austen House, via New York Public Library

Before Diane Arbus and Helen Levitt, there was Austen, one of the earliest female photographers in the country, who produced more than 8,000 images over the course of a long life that began in 1866.

She was, additionally, a landscape designer, a cyclist, an expert tennis player and the first woman on her native Staten Island to own a car. She took her camera everywhere — documenting immigrant communities in New York, street life, lawn tennis matches, her friends, parties, interiors. She often lugged around equipment weighing as much as 50 pounds.



Did you know? Firenze

When looking through a photograph album at the Alinari archives, I was shown this photograph of the Duomo in Florence taken sometime before 1874 when the album was created.





When you zero in on the facade of the Duomo, things get very interesting.  Instead of the brightly colored and highly embellished facade on the cathedral that one sees nowadays in Florence, this photograph reveals that the facade was left unfinished and unembellished after the Renaissance.



The following photo, of the Duomo today, shows the facade that was added to the building in the 1870s.


Grand Tour photo albums, a travel souvenir

If you were a young, aristocratic European man in the late 18th through 19th centuries, you might well have taken a Grand Tour.  After finishing your formal education, you would take a kind of gap year (or year and a half), traveling to and through the finest European capitals, including, in Italy, cities such as Venice, Milan, Florence, Rome and Naples.


You might have asked Alinari Brothers or another similar firm to create an album for you, comprised of their photographs of your favorite places. The Fratelli Alinari archives in Florence have many of these albums in their archives, and I had the opportunity to look at one of them from 1874.

It begins with a hand-tooled red leather cover.  The book measures roughly 20 x 30 inches.





The Frontispiece reveals that this album was created in Naples, by the Giorgio Sommer firm.



This particular album begins with photographs of Torino, Milano, and Venice, as here:



This album then moves to Firenze, and here are 3 images from this section of the book:





Next, the book moves on visually to Rome.  Here is a picture of oxen pulling carts through the Roman forum.



Then it was on to Naples.  The following is a picture of Mt. Vesuvius erupting in 1872.


I could (and will) spend hours looking through these albums!

According to my guide at the Alinari archives, an album like this would have cost a young gentleman about $1500 in today’s money.


Fratelli Alinari, Firenze, archivi fotografici

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:



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.