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Giorgio Sommer (1832–1914)
The Dome at Pisa
Italy, Pisa, c. 1865
Albumin print, mounted on cardboard, 18,4 x 24,4 cm
Annotated in the negative „Nr. 3875. Il Duomo.Pisa.”, two blindstamps on the mount: „Giorgio Sommer, Studio Monte di Dio 4, Magazzino S. Caterina 5, Napoli”; „Depot a Florence Via Maggio 15, J. Brecker”, hand-written title in pencil „Der Dom von Pisa”

Georg Sommer was born in Frankfurt on Main. After an early apprenticeship in trading, he started to work as a photographer and moved to Italy in 1855. There he became one of the most renowned photographers of Italian landscapes, monuments and art. He sold works in all kinds of formats and replicas of statues from antiquity and other travel souvenirs to tourists. Having started up in Rome, he moved to Naples in the late 1850s and opened a studio there, where he worked on genre depictions. From 1880 he started to produce open air shots in the streets. Another well-known part of his oeuvre are the images he took of the excavation sites of Pompeii and of the eruption of the Vesuvius in 1872.

The image above depicts the dome of Pisa with its crooked tower, a classical tourist attraction, frequently photographed – as the untilled space around the dome grants the spectator many angels on the building, leading to significant changes in image contextualisation. Sommer’s composition stands out because it combines the two edifices into a compact shape emphasising the orthogonal lines. The surface of the architecture is accentuated by strong contrasts, triggered by the dark violet tinting of his prints.

The various inscriptions show Sommer’s professional ways of trading: The archival tag on the glass negative, printed in white letters on black paper which can be seen on the lower left side of the positive, shows that there was a professional archive of negatives. This archive was managed by an employee in the “eternal city” of Rome that had a large market for such goods not only for tourists but also for the international circles of artists who lived there. The stamp on the carton’s lower right side mentions the branches of Sommer’s business in Naples (this is also a way of dating this print): The address mentioned is Monte di Dio 4, where he ran his studio between the years of 1860 and 86 and at Megazzino S. Caterina 5 he owned a storage space. Another stamp in the middle of the carton refers to the German dealer J. Brecker, who distributed Sommer’s prints in Florence.

The handwritten title in pencil lets us assume that the print was purchased by a customer from a German speaking country. Especially these countries favoured Italy as a close and convenient travel destination. The combination of education, recovery in the southern climate, as well as a journey of personal self-discovery offered the kind of experience as paradigmatically described by Goethe.

Marie Röbl, © WestLicht

Lit.: Giorgio Sommer in Italien. Fotografien 1857–1888, ed. by Marina Miraglia, Pino Piantanida, Ulrich Pohlmann, Dietmar Siegert, cat. Munich 1992. Giorgio Sommer (1834–1914). Photographien aus Italien, cat. Neue Galerie der Stadt Linz 1985, p. 40 (ill.).