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The ‘Suggestiveness’ of Roman Architecture: Henry Cole and Pietro Dovizielli’s photographic survey of 1859

  • Martin Barnes and Christopher Whitehead


In 1859 Henry Cole, director of the South Kensington Museum, as the Victoria and Albert Museum was formerly known, commissioned forty-four photographs of buildings in Rome. The study of the motives behind, and circumstances of, this commission, has led to a reconsideration of contemporary practices of architectural planning at South Kensington, for it has become apparent that these photographs were intended and used as source materials for architectural constructions then in progress under Cole’s direction. In 1975 Nicholas Taylor discussed the photographs and how they were used, but his essay was not concerned with identifying the photographs and their subjects. As a result of new research into documentation regarding the photographs, this identification is now possible, and it is hoped that this will shed some new light upon the evolution of the South Kensington ‘style’, which has been discussed at length by previous authors. As Cole’s photographic survey may be considered as something of a landmark in the early history of architectural photography, this essay will also discuss the significance of photography as a new medium for the representation of architectural source material, along with the importance of this for architectural revivalism in the 1860s.



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1 Shepherd, F. H. W. (gen. ed.), The Survey of London: the Museums Area of South Kensington and Westminster, XXVIII (London, 1975), p. 126 .

2 In 1906 Henry Cole’s son Alan Cole gave to the Museum, among other items, a group of thirty photographs which were inventoried as having been ‘taken at Mr. [Henry] Cole’s direction — in preparation for the buildings to be erected at the South Kensington museum and South Kensington Estate.’ (Alan Cole Nominal File, Victoria and Albert Museum Archive and Registry). It is evident from the Museum’s Photography Collection registers for 1906 and 1860 that another set of the photographs had already entered the collections, and had probably been acquired by Cole on behalf of the Museum after his return from Italy in 1859. A full set of these forty-four albumen prints exists, pasted into the guard books of the Museum’s Picture Library (numbers 958–1002), and some duplicates, individually mounted, are housed in the Photography Collection. A full listing is given at the end of this article.

3 Shepherd, Survey, pp. 74-132 (p. 87); Physick, John, The Victoria and Albert Museum: the History of its Building (London, 1982), p. 57 .

4 Cole, Henry, Fifty Years of Public Work of Sir Henry Cole, K.C.B. Accounted for in his Deeds, Speeches and Writings, edited and completed by A. S., and Cole, H. L., 2 vols (London, 1884), 1, 330 . The Horticultural Society was allowed to call itself ‘Royal’ in 1860.

5 For details of the activities of these three individuals see Bonython, Elizabeth, King Cole: a Picture Portrait of Sir Henry Cole, KCB 1808-1882 (London, 1982); Casteras, Susan (ed.), Richard Redgrave (London, 1988) and Physick, The Victoria and Albert Museum.

6 Cole’s diaries have been transcribed by Elizabeth Bonython and are held at the National Art Library, Victoria & Albert Museum.

7 See note 3.

8 For Cole’s attitude to titled architects see Shepherd, Survey, p. 87.

9 In the case of the Horticultural Gardens, Sidney Smirke, then architect of the British Museum, was called in to prepare designs for the northern and central arcades and conservatories, whilst those to the south were completed according to designs by Fowke and Sykes. Described in Cole, , Fifty Years of Public Work, 1, 330 .

10 Many writers have drawn attention to the importance for the subsequent use of terracotta at South Kensington of Cole’s visit to an unidentified building near San Giovanni in Laterano in Rome, where he noted that ‘the pilasters were of red brick, but the Corinthian capitals of yellow — not cut but moulded before they were baked. I hope we shall adopt this system at South Kensington, rather eschewing the use of stone, except where stone would be decidedly best.’ This was first quoted from the Italian Journal in Cole, , Fifty Years of Public Work, I, 332 . See Physick, The Victoria and Albert Museum, p. 37; Stratton, Michael, The Terracotta Revival (London, 1993), p. 57 .

11 For the purpose of this essay the authors adopt Nikolaus Pevsner’s definition of the term ‘historicism’ in relation to architecture: see Pevsner, Nikolaus, An Outline of European Architecture, 5th edn (Harmondsworth, 1943), p. 267 and Fleming, John, Honour, Hugh & Pevsner, Nikolaus, The Penguin Dictionary of Architecture, 3rd edn (Harmondsworth, 1966), pp. 155-56.

12 Shepherd, Survey, p. 96.

13 This theme is discussed at length in Christopher Whitehead, ‘Museum Interiors in London’, in Annali della Scuola Normale Superiore di Pisa, Spring 1998, forthcoming.

14 An example of Prince Albert’s influence in architectural planning can be seen in his order that there be ‘no Greek architecture’ in the Royal Horticultural Gardens (cited in Shepherd, Survey, p. 128), while Osborne House (1848–59) is testament to his taste for Italianate architecture. In an obituary printed in the Proceedings of the Royal Horticultural Society, 2 (London, 1862), the gardens were described as ‘actually the emanation of [Prince Albert’s] own genius. Captain Fowke, Mr. Smirke, and Mr. Nesfield furnished plans, but it was he who first suggested the ideas which they put on paper; it was he who examined their plans, altered and corrected them until they gradually assumed their present form’ (pp. 1-2). The ‘Mr. Nesfield’ mentioned here is the landscape gardener William Andrews Nesfield (1793-1881).

15 Copies of the Grammar of Ornament, which was deemed ‘a great work’ by the Department of Science and Art, were commonly distributed as prizes to students of the Art Schools (Shepherd, Survey, p. 77).

16 Braun, Adolphe Emil & Grüner, Ludwig, Specimens of Ornamental Art Selected from the Best Models of the Classical Epochs… (London, 1850), plate 76. The decoration of the Casa Taverna is attributed to Bernardo Luini, who occupies one of the mosaics in the Kensington Valhalla series. The volume was acquired by the Museum library during the 1850s.

17 See Physick, John, Photography and the South Kensington Museum (London, 1975); Haworth-Booth, Mark, Photography: An Independent Art; Photographs from the Victoria & Albert Museum 1839–1996 (London, 1997); Hamber, Anthony J., ‘A Higher Branch of the Art’: Photographing the Fine Arts in England, 1839–1880 (Amsterdam, 1996), pp. 393453 .

18 Ibid.

19 The present authors are grateful to Dr Clive Wainwright for bringing this episode, also described in Hamber, ‘A Higher Branch of the Art’, p. 402, to their attention. Reproductions of two of the Thurston Thompson photographs of the Soulages collection can be seen in Clive Wainwright, ‘Models of Inspiration’, Country Life, June 1988, pp. 266-67.

20 For information regarding this exhibition, and for the photographs Cole bought from it, see Mark Haworth-Booth, ‘Henry Cole as photographer’, The V&A Album, Autumn 1988, pp. 38-45.

21 For an account of the exhibition see Hamber, ‘A Higher Branch of the Art’, p. 430.

22 Cole’s travel journal for 1858-59 is held in manuscript form in the archive of the Royal College of Arts. The present authors are grateful to Elizabeth Boynthon for indicating its whereabouts, and to Eugene Rae, archivist, for allowing extracts from it to be published here. It is interesting to note that the journal itself is interspersed with small photographs of the principal views of Rome.

23 Henry Cole, Italian Journal, p. 248.

24 Ibid.

25 ‘Sir James Clark said I ought to get a complete rest for twelve months or so, and advised Italy’ (quotation from Cole’s diary in Cole, , Fifty Years of Public Work, 1, 330-31).

26 Cole, Italian Journal, pp. 181-82. The measurement of 787 feet would suggest that Cole measured the distance between the outer extremities of the two colonnades of the Piazza, rather than simply the ‘breadth between the two sides’ specified in the quotation.

27 It has been suggested in Shepherd, Survey, p. 126, that Prince Albert prompted Cole to photograph in Rome, but the present authors have not been able to find evidence for this in the Royal Archives and no intimation or suggestion of it is reported in Cole’s diaries. We are grateful to Pamela Clark of the Royal Archives for verifying the absence of relevant material.

28 Cole, Italian Journal, p. 219. Similarly, in 1855 Charles Thurston Thompson and Robert Bingham had also photographed the construction and exhibits of the Paris Exhibition, and many objects in the collections of the Louvre (Hamber, ‘A Higher Branch of the Art’, p. 273).

29 Cole, Italian Journal, p. 179. The Villa is now ascribed to Bartolomeo Ammanati.

30 Ibid., p. 227.

31 Ibid., p. 241.

32 Ibid.

33 Ibid., p.245, ‘[Cole continues]… 135 V. Babuino His charge is to be 5 scudi aplate of 13 inch by 10 inch & cost of the glass say 25s[cudi]. He and Mr Smith went with me this morning to the P. Barberini Colonna & to choose the subjects…’.

34 For information on Dovizielli see Gary Edwards, International Guide to Nineteenth Century Photographers (1988), p. 160; Photography and Architecture: 1839-1939, ed. Richard Pare, catalogue of the exhibition held at the Canadian Centre for Architecture (1982), p. 232 and Frizot, Michael (ed.), Nouvelle Histoire de la Photographie (Paris, 1994), p. 157 .

35 Cole, Italian Journal, p. 246.

36 ‘To the Photographers Mr. P. Dovizielli Via Babuino 135. Rome who has undertaken to do certain architectural details at 5 scudis each & the glass’ (ibid., entry for 14 January 1859, p. 252).

37 Ibid., p. 281. Cole’s diary entries for 12 and 16 July 1866 describe subsequent meetings with Dovizielli in London, suggesting that their acquaintance went beyond a temporary professional collaboration.

38 Ibid., pp. 289-290. The college was in fact constructed largely by Pirro Ligorio and Giacomo della Porta. Francesco Borromini later altered della Porta’s curved east façade and raised the church of San Ivo della Sapienza beyond it.

39 In the mid-1860s Dovizielli announced the publication of a folio volume of photographs of art works stating his intention ‘applicare agrandi studi la fotografia, rendendola ausiliare dell’arte, per via di collezioni metodiche, graduali, ordinate sopra una scala di epoche, di luoghi, di stili, di forme e studi progressivi…[to put photography to a high purpose, rendering it auxiliary to art [in the creation of] methodical and gradual collections, ordered in a scale of epochs, places, styles, forms and progressive studies]’ (quoted in Dizionario Biografico degli Italiani (Rome, 1992), XLI, p. 609). The affinity between Dovizielli’s stated aims and those of the South Kensington Museum are notable.

40 It seems that Dovizielli’s usual photographic style was more grand than is apparent from the photographs commissioned by Cole. A review from the Sun, regarding the Architectural Photography Association’s exhibition of 1861, reads ‘[w]hat shall we say of such astounding photographs as those two brought to us from Rome by P. Dovizielli; No. 30, the … grand old ruined Coliseum, and No. 52, St. Peter’s sublime and world-famous cathedral? What — but that they are the very paragons of architectural photography! Yonder it is the vera effigies of that grim and wondrous pile…’, quoted in Pare, Photography and Architecture, pp. 232-33.

41 See, for example, Gernsheim, Helmut, Focus on Architecture and Sculpture: an Original Approach to the Photography of Architecture and Sculpture (London, 1949); Maraglia, Marina, ‘Note per una Storia della Fotografia Italiana’, in Storia dell’Arte Italiana, ed. Previtali, Giovanni and Zeri, Federico, 13 vols (Turin, 1979–83), IX, Grafica e Immagine II: Illustrazione Fotografia (1980), pp. 423-543; Eva Blau & Edward Kauffman (eds), Architecture and its Image: Four Centuries of Architectural Representation (1989); Photographier l’Architecture 1851-1920: Collection du Musée des Monuments Français, ed. Anne de Mondenard, catalogue of an exhibition at the Musée des Monuments Français (1994); Maffioli, Monica, Il Belvedere: Fotografi e Architetti nell’Italia dell’Ottocento (Turin, 1996); Pare, Photography and Architecture.

42 Maffioli, Il Belvedere, p. 24.

43 Further impetus was given to architectural photography in 1851 by the development by Frederick Scott Archer of the wet-collodion glass-negative process, which decreased exposure time and allowed a high level of image resolution. Any assessment of the growth of photography from 1851 must also take account of the Great Exhibition ofthat year, from which ‘[photography] emerged … as something more than a commercial portraiture machine or a gizmo of the scientifically gifted’ (Haworth-Booth, An Independent Art, p. 25).

44 Maffioli, II Belvedere, p. 24. See also Alfred Nicolas Normand Architecte, Photographies de 1851-52, catalogue of an exhibition in Paris (1978).

45 Ibid., p. 26.

46 Ibid.

47 Blau & Kauffman, Architecture and its Image, p. 39. The Mission may have influenced F. A. S. Marshall, who in 1855 published a pamphlet entitled Photography: the Importance of its Application in Preserving Pictorial Records of the National Monuments of History and Art (cited in Gernsheim, Focus on Architecture and Sculpture, p. 21).

48 In 1854, referring to his photographs of 1852 Negre stated that ‘[i]n the reproduction of antique and medieval monuments which I offer to the public, I have endeavoured to reunite picturesque qualities with an accurate study of those details so requested by archaeologists, architectural artists, sculptors and painters … In this way, for architecture, I have created a general view of every monument, placing the horizon line at half the height of the building, with a central point of view. I have endeavoured to avoid perspectival deformations and to give the drawings [i.e. the photographs] the precision of elevations … Where I have been able to avoid architectural precision I have created picturesque effect: if it was necessary I sacrificed details in favour of a grandiose effect capable of restoring to the monument its true character and poetry.’ Quoted in Maffioli, Il Belvedere, p. 27.

49 ‘The subjects photographed last year were selected by Mr. Seddon — that is, the responsibility of the selection rested with that gendeman, and he himself accompanied the photographers through their tour. Thus this collection of photographs combines the qualities of being exactly the views that a professional architect of the highest ability would select and desire to record, while they are also photographic pictures of the first rank.’ (Anonymous and untided article in Art Journal (1868), new series 13, p. 73).

50 ‘It will be seen, accordingly, that this collection places before students and lovers of architecture a series of examples of the always interesting and instructive Romanesque and early transition works of the Rhenish provinces … And, it may be added, that this early transitional style, which is always so rich in valuable practical suggestion to the architect of our own times, existed in the Rhenish provinces much longer than it did in England’ (ibid., p. 74). The Architectural Photography Association was founded in 1857 and is discussed by Gernsheim, Focus on Architecture and Sculpture, pp. 21-24, and Elwall, Robert, ‘The Foe-to-Graphic Art: the Rise and Fall of the Architectural Photographic Association’, The Photographic Collector, 5 (1985), pp. 142-63.

51 Shepherd, Survey, p. 126.

52 Ibid.

53 Cole is reported as having considered architectural drawings ‘only vague deceptions’, ibid., p. 92.

54 Attention has been drawn to the possibility that orientalizing qualities of the Lecture Theatre façade derive from photographs of Mughal buildings at Lucknow which had previously entered the collection (ibid., p. 91).

55 The term ‘pittori fotografi’ was frequendy used to describe photographers in mid-century Rome. Silvio Negro has traced some of the continuities evident between topographical views in Italian painting and engraving and early photography, in ‘I Primi Fotografi Romani’, Mostra della Fotografia a Roma dal 1840 al 1915, catalogue of the exhibition in Rome (1953), pp. 11–31.

56 The evolution of Cole’s idea for an ‘International Art Inventory’ is described in Cole, Fifty Years of Public Work, 1, pp. 346-47.

57 The vast diffusion of images published by the Arundel Society, and their frequent public exhibition, are discussed in Gernsheim, Focus on Architecture and Sculpture, and Cooper, Robyn, ‘The Popularization of the Italian Renaissance in Victorian England: the Arundel Society’, in Art History, 1 (1978), pp. 263-93 (pp. 275–76 & 280).

58 See notes 20 and 21.

59 This appendix will not provide corrections of the factual errors made in many of the following captions.

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The ‘Suggestiveness’ of Roman Architecture: Henry Cole and Pietro Dovizielli’s photographic survey of 1859

  • Martin Barnes and Christopher Whitehead


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