Opening March 13 at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Paradise of Exiles: Early Photography in Italy will focus on Italy’s importance as a center of exchange and experimentation during the first three decades of photography’s history—from 1839, the year of its invention, to 1871, the year Italy became a unified nation.
The exhibition will highlight the little-known contribution of Italian photographers to the development of the new medium through some 35 photographs and albums drawn from The Met collection, along with 11 loans, including rare daguerreotypes and photographs related to the Risorgimento, the period of modern Italian unification.
Deemed a “Paradise of Exiles” by the British poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, Italy attracted not only 19th-century Romantics, but also many of photography’s earliest practitioners who traveled to the peninsula in order to capture its monuments and distinctive topography. At the same time, Italians adopted daguerreotypes and paper negatives as a means to represent their own cultural patrimony during a period of political upheaval.
The exhibition will explore key moments from this period—the simultaneous introduction of daguerreotypes and paper negatives into Italy; the international circle of photographers known as the Roman School; and the emergence of commercial studios—demonstrating how both foreign and local photographers working in close proximity re-imagined Italy’s architecture, landscapes, and people through the camera’s lens. An early daguerreotype of the Roman Forum, Giacomo Caneva’s study of a Roman peasant girl, and a studio portrait of Italy’s first king, Victor Emanuel II, invite a fresh perspective on Italy’s position within the early history of photography.