Alinari History of Italy
Università IULM Fratelli Alinari Università degli studi di Milano with the contribution of
Fondazione Cariplo


Italy poses

During the Italian Risorgimento, the technique of "fixing images, without the work of an artist" - introduced in 1839 - will change name several times and, above, all its nature. Daguerreotypes, the ancestors of photographs, are unique, non-reproducible pieces: these are light sensitive, silver-coated copper plates that reproduce a single positive-negative image. The calotype would follow shortly after as the first process that produces a negative on paper from which one can print more copies: only at this point does photography becomes a reproducible technique. With the moist collodium negative on glass support, images become clearer, the exposure time is reduced and the diffusion is extraordinary. In this period, in spite of the continuous technological developments, posing in front of the camera is essential, because capturing a subject in motion is still, for the time being, practically impossible. During the Italian unification years, photography is seen as a very strong mass communication medium: and Italy poses for its pictures with its locations, people and ideas. The use of photography changes from the true interpretation of reality to its ideal invention, giving life to a gallery of images that may be real or realistic. Although the objective is to produce documentation, the photographer in fact, chooses, more or less consciously and more or less emphatically, to propose particular perspectives, which are functional to an ideology. The Risorgimento's iconographic repertory, in general but in particular in its tendency to assume the form of patriotic propaganda, is able not only to steer public opinion but also action, thus offering an important contribution to the unification of the Kingdom. Posing for the photographer are also the protagonists of this historical moment: they went to photographers or photographers went to them, they paid or in some rare occasions were paid to pose, whether in public events or in private homes, in a completely decontextualized setting or with references to a pertaining situation. The public becomes familiar with the faces of the Fathers of the Nation, and begin to form an opinion through photography. It is difficult to say if the demand generates the offer or the other way round, fact is that the original photo is reproduced and disseminated into a countless variety of portraits often making it difficult to trace the author of the original "matrix". This on one hand generates a variety of photographic formats of different sizes, engravings, lithographs and paintings which "are supplied to the major retailers to then be included in the albums of the bourgeoisie", and on the other hand, generates graphic transpositions for contemporary publishers which are still unable to illustrate books and newspapers with actual photographs. The effigy of a certain prominent figure, conceived by photography in the Risorgimento, replicated so many times and re-proposed to various generations, is today deeply imprinted in the collective imagination: sometimes it actually turns into a symbol and is able to evoke different sentiments, depending on the context.

The Alinari brothers, who founded their firm in Florence in 1852 thus bringing photography to the Grand Duchy of Tuscany, were fervent supporters of the unification of Italy and consequently produced many portraits of the new nation's glories. This genre also offered the opportunity for the Alinari family to establish important relations within the cultural circles of Florence, which at the time were was very active. The Sala di Posa Alinari (the Alinari Photo Studio), famous for its elegance, is, within the Italian world of photography, at least until the nation's capital was moved to Rome, ‘the' photo atelier, where kings, queens, politicians, ministers, heroes, fathers of the nation, famous artists and intellectuals would come for their portraits. The photographs were then sold to the public, framed and hung on the walls of Italian homes. Giuseppe Mazzini, Nino Bixio, Giuseppe Garibaldi, Napoleone I, the Duke of Aosta, Prince Umberto, the King of Italy Victor Emmanuel II, Daniele Manin, Pius IX, Camillo Benso Conte di Cavour, Quintino Sella, Giovan Pietro Vieusseux, Napoleon III, Baron Bettino Ricasoli, Vittorio Alfieri, Massimo d'Azeglio, General Cadorna, Benedetto Cairoli, Francesco Crispi, Paolo Mantegazza, Giovan Battista Niccolini. These are all icons which the Alinari brothers helped to collect and disseminate, reaching us today, and helping us to try to imagine, beyond the subject of the photograph and the Alinari photo atelier, what Italy was like.

Following the indications of the workshop you can create Photo-Memory, a game to remember the foundation of Italy.


Workshop 1
  • Fratelli Alinari, Giuseppe Garibaldi, 1865-1870 ca., Alinari Archives-Alinari Archive, Florence
    Garibaldi's icon, created and disseminated by Alinari, influences part of the subsequent production of images of the hero.
Workshop 2
  • Gustave Le Gray, Giuseppe Garibaldi, 1860 ca., Fratelli Alinari Museum Collections (RMFA), Florence
    Garibaldi asks Alexandre Dumas to find him a photographer to document Palermo after the Bourbonic revolt. The writer recommends Le Gray, "the best photographer in Paris".
Workshop 3
  • Gustave Le Gray, The Royal Palace of Palermo to the barricades during the Sicilian campaign of Giuseppe Garibaldi, 1860, Fratelli Alinari Museum Collections (RMFA), Florence
    Le Gray's photographic report, made at the same time as Garibaldi's military campaigns, clearly separates the background from the heroes.
Workshop 4
  • Unidentified Author, Giuseppe Garibaldi, 1880 ca., Fratelli Alinari Museum Collections (RMFA), Florence
    Garibaldi's myth, in Italy and abroad, was fuelled by the vast and growing production of photographic portraits of the hero, produced in large quantities even after the second war of independence to satisfy, at this point, a popular demand, rather than a government request.
Workshop 5
  • Trinkets with Garibaldi's picture, Fratelli Alinari Museum Collections (RMFA), Florence.
    A sort of secular patriotic religion is born: Garibaldi is the "martyr", his ex-voto images are said to have "miraculous healing powers" and related objects are treated as holy relics.
Workshop 6
  • Fratelli Alinari, Vittorio Emanuele II with Rosa Vercellana Countess of Mirafiori, 1860-1870 ca., Alinari Archives-Alinari Archive, Florence
    Victor Emmanuel, here with his lover in the Alinari photo studio, allows the photographer to enter his more intimate dimension, and will share these pictures only within his inner circle.
Workshop 7
  • Fratelli Alinari, The King Victor Emanuel II, 1870 ca., Alinari Archives-Alinari Archive, Florence
    The choice of representing the superfluous, like hunting scenes for example, anticipates the future trend of taking pictures of recreational activities of the ruling class .
Workshop 8
  • Unidentified Author, Half-length portrait of King Victor Emmanuel of Savoy in military uniform, 1874-1877 ca., Fratelli Alinari Museum Collections-Malandrini Collection, Florence
    Having a photograph in full uniform, with all the symbols of power and valour entailed, shows how photography was exploited for propaganda purposes also by the king.
Workshop 9
  • Unidentified Author, Portraits of the Presidents of the Council of Ministers of the new Kingdom of Italy, 1865 ca., Fratelli Alinari Museum Collections (RMFA), Florence
    In the 19th century it was customary to collect portraits of historical figures into albums, which could be entirely dedicated to national heroes or integrated into family albums, where the first pages were usually filled with pictures of illustrious figures that best represent the political orientation of the family. Here we can see Camillo Benso Conte di Cavour, Alfonso Lamarmora, Marco Minghetti, Bettino Ricasoli, Urbano Rattazzi, Vincenzo Gioberti, Luigi Carlo Farini.
Workshop 10
  • Mayer & Pierson, Official portrait of the participants in the Paris Convention which put an end to the Crimean war, 1856, Fratelli Alinari Museum Collections (RMFA), Florence
    Group photograph with the signatures of all the participants of the Paris Congress in 1856, by Mayer & Pierson.
Workshop 11
  • Mayer & Pierson, Gallery of the plenipotentiaries at the Congress of Paris, Portrait of Cavour, 1856, Fratelli Alinari Museum Collections (RMFA), Florence
    The picture of Cavour in the album of the Paris Congress strongly influences the subsequent production, which will generate a great number of identical reproductions.
Workshop 12
  • Unidentified Author, Portrait of Camillo Benso, Count of Cavour, 1860 ca., Fratelli Alinari Museum Collections (RMFA), Florence
    Photographs are often retouched and framed. There are also a number of lithographs, engravings and paintings. The format varies, the most common being the carte-de-visite.
Workshop 13
  • Adolphe Braun & C. - Francesco De Federicis, The pope Pius IX in a white cassock. 1875, Fratelli Alinari Museum Collections-Palazzoli Collection, Florence
    Pius IX understands the importance of photography: official portraits are taken of the pope and members of his entourage, photo-reportages of his pontificate are produced, battlefields with fake corpses are staged to evoke the pontifical victory and ultimately an edict is issued that allows censoring of photographs.
Workshop 14
  • Unidentified Author, Pio IX, Fratelli Alinari Museum Collections (RMFA), Florence
    Even when expressing his rejection of modernism, Pius IX does not claim to be contrary to modern technology. In some cases he uses photography in a modern manner, allowing it to communicate events: some photographs in fact forestall the themes implicit in photojournalism.
Workshop 15
  • Mayer & Pierson, Portrait of Napoleon III in uniform, 1865 ca., Fratelli Alinari Museum Collections, Florence
    Napoleon III, who understands how photography can influence the perception of an event, hires a group of French photographers to go the Crimea and document the war. Because of the widespread dissemination of images, also through the press, it would seem that the "media strategy is planned by the photographers and the periodical press".
Workshop 16
  • Levitsky, Portrait of Napoleon III Bonaparte in civilian clothes, 1865 ca., Fratelli Alinari Museum Collections (RMFA), Florence
    The photographic prints of Campagne d'Italie once owned by the Contessa di Castiglione – and kept in Villa la Petraia in Florence for a period – suggest that Napoleon also considered them as a personal souvenir d'Italie.
Workshop 17
  • Pierre Louis Pierson, The countess of Castiglione robed as the Queen of Etruria, 1863, Fratelli Alinari Museum Collections (RMFA), Florence
    The Contessa di Castiglione, who has more than 500 photos taken of herself, often theatrical, some narcissist and eccentric, shows a particular interest in photography. In this case like in many others, the most important woman in Napoleon's court poses in mask for Pierre Louis Pierson's camera.
Workshop 18
  • Fratelli Alinari, Giuseppe Mazzini, 1860 ca., Alinari Archives-Alinari Archive, Florence
    Mazzini pays great attention to his image in photography which he tends to repeat: he is always dressed in black "as a sign of mourning for the oppression in his country".
Workshop 19
  • Fratelli Alinari, Giuseppe Mazzini, 1860 ca., Alinari Archives-Alinari Archive, Florence
    One of the many examples of Mazzini with his head propped up by his arm.
Workshop 20
  • Caldesi & C., Giuseppe Mazzini, 1860 ca., Fratelli Alinari Museum Collections (RMFA), Florence
    Another typical example of Mazzini leaning back on a chair by a table full of books.
Workshop 21
  • Unidentified Author, Three-quarter-length portrait of Giuseppe Mazzini, 1860 -1870 ca., Fratelli Alinari Museum Collections (RMFA), Florence
    One of the many examples of Mazzini sitting in front of the photographer with his hands crossed and his gaze looking beyond the camera lens.
Workshop 22
  • Unidentified Author, Portrait of the politician Giuseppe Mazzini, 1860 ca., Fratelli Alinari Museum Collections (RMFA), Florence
    Mazzini merchandized his image for the cause, selling it also by correspondence.
Workshop 23
  • Fratelli Alinari, Giuseppe Mazzini, 1860 ca., Alinari Archives-Alinari Archive, Florence
    Giuseppe Mazzini tries to help Italian exiles in financial difficulty, like when he helped the Caldesi brothers open a photographic studio in England. It is the Caldesi studio that circulates photographs of Mazzini in England, as well as of the exhumation in Chiswich and transportation to Florence of Ugo Foscolo's body.
Workshop 24
  • Elliot & Fry, Portrait of the politician and italian patriot Giuseppe Mazzini (1805-1872), 1865 ca., Fratelli Alinari Museum Collections (RMFA), Florence
    The first photographic reportage in the history of photography shows Rome in 1849 after the papal and French troupes defeated the republicans lead by Mazzini and Garibaldi. These images, because they evoke a historical event and not a political statement, are popular amongst both victors, as a demonstration of strength, and the defeated, as a testimony of heroism.
Workshop 25
  • Unidentified Author, Portrait of the politician and italian patriot Giuseppe Mazzini deceased, 1872, Fratelli Alinari Museum Collections (RMFA), Florence
    The photographs taken of Mazzini on the day of his death in 1872, in Pisa where he was living almost clandestinely, have been widely disseminated and reproduced in many versions, some even specular. These post-mortem photographs that aim to capture and immortalize the physiognomy of a person through eternity derive from the ancient tradition of funeral masks.
Workshop 26
  • Unidentified Author, Full-length portrait of the female brigand Marianna Olivieri, wife of the brigand Monaco, executed by firing squad in 1864, 1860 -1864 ca., Fratelli Alinari Museum Collections (RMFA), Florence
    Because of the tendency in 19th century positivism to classify images, we have portraits of official figures but also of many other categories: from actors to pasta eaters, from exotic civilizations to the Italian human landscape, from Garibaldi's men to bandits.
Workshop 27
  • Unidentified Author, Full-length portrait of a bandit in traditional Ciociaria dress, 1875 ca., Fratelli Alinari Museum Collections (RMFA), Florence
    The success of the "bandit" genre is due partly to the press of the time that indulges in illustrations of this sort of civil war ignited by the phenomenon of banditry. The negatives of the portraits of bandits circulate amongst photographers, photos are reproduced and sometimes photographers resort to fake bandits (men and women) somewhat resembling the stock characters of the "Commedia dell'Arte".
Workshop 28
  • Unidentified Author, Portrait of an armed brigand. He is hiding from his adversaries kneeling on the ground, 1860-1870 ca., Fratelli Alinari Museum Collections (RMFA), Florence
    The portraits of men and women who have embraced the anti-Savoy cause, are represented as "subdued preys", captured by the powerful military.
Workshop 29
  • Migliorato, Post mortem portrait of the brigand Curcio. The corpse has been placed on a seat. Standing beside the deceased, a priest and a soldier in uniform, equipped with bayonet, 1860 - 1870 ca., Fratelli Alinari Museum Collections (RMFA), Florence
    The bodies of these bandits, sometimes horribly mutilated and then recomposed for the benefit of the camera, are flaunted in photographs produced and disseminated without any form of censorship.
Workshop 30
  • Author, Portrait of a group of brigands, 1870 -1875 ca., Fratelli Alinari Museum Collections (RMFA), Florence
    Many pictures of criminals are taken in this period, when the police start using photography for filing criminal records. Criminal photography, which in its first form is quite varied, will at a certain point be standardized to axonometric poses: right profile, left profile and front view: the latter being the typical ID photograph.
Workshop 31
  • Fratelli Alinari, The luminous portrait studio of the Alinari Brothers' photographic establishment, in Florence. On the left the photograph Gaetano Puccini, 1899, Alinari Archives-Alinari Archive, Florence
    The Alinari brothers photograph the principal protagonists of history, receiving them in their elegant atelier, a sort of upper class parlour. The portraits of illustrious gentlemen, the negatives of which are kept by the Alinari, are commissioned for private use, or in some cases marketed through a widespread system in Italy and abroad for propaganda.
Workshop 32
  • Unidentified Author, The plain of Solferino after the battle fought by the Franco-Piedmontese troops against the Austrians. To the left the cemetery walls show the signs of the confrontation that took place; to the right stands a tower, 1859, Fratelli Alinari Museum Collections (RMFA), Florence
    During the period of Napoleon III, his enterprise are recorded on camera and collected to produce an official documentation on French history. The shots are sometimes suggested by the emperor himself, and the backgrounds and battle scenes are sometimes masked – like the damage caused to the Solferino cemetery walls – in idealized portrayals of the Bel Paese to justify the Napoleonic intervention in the eyes of the public opinion.
Workshop 33
  • Unidentified Author, View of the famous Breach of Porta Pia, in Rome, crowded with visitors. 1870, Fratelli Alinari Museum Collections-Malandrini Collection, Florence
    The people gather to see the open gap in the walls in the days following September 20th 1870. There are also other pictures of the Aurelian walls with Michelangelo's monumental gate, which soon become the "memorabilia" of epochal events: the Italian Unification, the victory of the Savoy over Pius IX, the constitution of Rome as Capital of the nation and the end of the Church's temporal power. The underlying theme of these photographs is the idea of having brought down a barrier which had up to then been unsurmountable.


    1. A revolutionary period and new technique: in what sense, in a period of revolutionary ferment such as the 19th century, is photography considered an instrument with revolutionary potential? If the positivist approach, also to justify its existence, attributes photography the identity of a true document, which examples in the gallery refute this idea, show us instead that photography has always been able to communicate partial messages?
    2. Even today the media are used to manipulate public perception. Have you ever heard of media dictatorship referred to our country? We might add that in dictatorships the use of the media completely manipulated and the dictator's portraits, often photographs, emerge out if the landscape like giants. Did you know that in photography these formats are known as large photographs are known as blow-ups?
    3. The issue of photographic reproduction calls for a consideration on copyright matters, literally "the right to copy". Have you ever looked into its history and tried to understand if in your daily activities, you have always respected copyright rules?
    4. Almost twins: Italy and the Alinari brothers. What does the almost simultaneous birth of the "Bel Paese" and the "Sala di Posa Alinari" entail? And the fact that Florence is also home to senators and members of parliament, where Carducci and Garibaldi spend their time, where the eccentric "macchiaioli" mix with the aristocracy and the "colony" of foreigners ? Did you know that a royal crown is printed on the back of all photographs of royals? And that at the occasional exhibition, people would come in crowds to see the gigantic photographs of these eminent figures?
    5. At MNAF National Museum of Photography you can find the famous, original, photograph by Robert Capa of the Spanish soldier caught in the instant he's shot. This photograph is still used today in many propaganda campaigns: but this time it's campaigns against the war, differently to the interventionist propaganda found in many examples of photography of the Risorgimento. Amongst the various pictures on display at MNAF you can also find photographs by Adolfo Porry-Pastorel, a pioneer in Italian photo-reporting. Can you trace any kind of precursors, albeit on an embryonic stage, of photo-reporting in the period of the Risorgimento?
    6. Criminal photography traces its origins in physiognomy, which studies the relation between the psychological and moral character of a person and his/her physical appearance, especially the features and expressions of the face. In the 19th century attempts are made to corroborate this theory through photography, but will soon prove to be a failure. Why, in your view, would it be very dangerous, as well as totally absurd, to tell the character and even the destiny of a person just from their ID photo? What was the purpose, in your view, of extending the photo ID practice, initially adopted only for people who were "WANTED" for having broken the law, whereas nowadays we are all "filed"?

    Suggestions for continuing the workshop activity:
    follow the activity proposed during the workshop, answer the questions, write down your considerations, express your doubts, take part in didactic the MNAF workshops in Florence; then post your material on MNAF's Facebook profile.

    For further information:
    Gabriella de Polo
    Didactic Coordination
    Fratelli Alinari. Fondazione per la storia della Fotografia


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