Historical Library

Photographic collections

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The Library has a large collection of historical photographs, of non-homogeneous origin, in some cases of particular quality importance. The main nucleus consists of the set of images received with the Library and Documentation Fund of the bibliographer and bibliophile Marino Parenti (1900 - 1963), whose potential goes beyond the well-known collection - widely published and studied - of phototypes of the "lucigrapher" milanese Luigi Sacchi. Parenti bought Sacchi's photographs, including the precious calotipic negatives, true incunabula of 19th century Italian photography, following his predilections for Manzoni, in friendly competition with other great Italian collectors, Lamberto Vitali, Silvio Negro, Emilio Sioli Legnani. But Sacchi's images, while excelling in historical and artistic importance, are only a conspicuous fragment of a collection that also includes other significant evidence. In fact, many paths link Parenti to photography: for example, series owned almost completely by one of its "competitors", Count Sioli Legnani, as the collection entitled "Those who pass", taken along the streets of Milan by an impromptu anonymous photographer, complete with the specimens purchased by Parenti, and a large, sumptuous album in decorated metal, made by Ulrico Hoepli presumably for his desk, collects all the images of his "authors and collaborators". The presence of hundreds of photographic portraits, collected in various other albums, acquires a precise sense in the conceptual universe of Parenti, perfectly fitting into the reconstructive dream of a world, that of the literary and civil Nineteenth century, which he loved to madness.
Of particular importance are the Nineteenth century views of Rome, the nucleus that reveals with greater punctuality the affinity with the parallel research of Silvio Negro, merged into successful publishing enterprises (Roman Album, New Roman Album) and in the experience of an exhibition that proved to be fundamental for the development of the history of Italian photography, La Mostra della fotografia a Roma dal 1840 al 1915, realized in 1953. In another exhibition, this time conceived by Lamberto Vitali and dedicated to nineteenth-century Italian photography, at the Milan Triennale of 1957, appeared some of the most significant phototypes of Sacchi owned by Parenti, including the negative of the "Man with the trumpet" and the great view of the Duomo of Milan. But other and equally interesting are the photographic presences in the collection Parenti, in biblical between historical documentation, landscape opening, ethnographic recall, orientalism. To this last strand belong the six photo albums that contain 136 photographs by Felix Bonfils, Zangaki and G. Lekegian dedicated to Cairo and Port Said, in all their aspects, from monuments to characteristic types. The tourist-commercial aspect is also evidenced by the 36 photographs of Garrigues dedicated to Tunisia. It departs from the descriptive character to fall into the real reportage, with photos of considerable historical and documentary significance, an album dedicated in particular to South Africa at the time of the Anglo-Boer War, illustrated by the studio Stoel & Groote of Pretoria, which contains touching images, such as those taken at the Pretoria station during the preparations and then at the departure of the soldiers to the front. In addition to these main groups, the Parenti collection is also rich in other photographic documents, accumulated especially during its activity as publisher and curator, among which stands out the scene photography, along with portraits of Italian actors. That the interest in this particular genre went beyond the pure collecting taste, is evident from the fact that these original images are accompanied by numerous other reproductions from texts or prints, expression of the daily work of the editorial consultant.

In addition to the preponderant collection Parenti, the library holds numerous Nineteenth century photo albums, and various other photographs of both the 19th and 20th centuries, of various origins and acquisition. Some of these materials document the activities of the Province of Turin, others, such as the photographs of Besso, Giacomo Brogi, Vittorio Ecclesia, Riccardo Moncalvo, Augusto Pedrini, Pietro Santini, Giorgio Sommer, have an illustrative character of places and itineraries. Very significant are also the photographs in individual archives, such as the rich album of achievements in the Zuccarelli Fund. More problematic was the identification and reporting, over time, of original photographs glued together for illustrative kit of Nineteenth century books, always entrusted to the random finding, within a large mass of publications.

The inventory has a topographical character and was originally intended only for internal consultation. We believe, however, that it's necessary to give visibility to a documentary heritage that, beyond the Sacchi collection, known to the specialists in the field, has, until now, only appeared on a list that can only be consulted locally. The hope is that in the future we can arrive at a real catalogue, logically structured and as complete as possible.


Lamberto Vitali, "Antica fotografia italiana", in "Un secolo di fotografia dalla collezione Gernsheim", exhibition catalogue, Milano, XI Triennale di Milano, 1957, pp. 45-54; "Luigi Sacchi. Un artista dell'Ottocento nell'Europa dei fotografi", curated by Roberto Cassanelli, Torino, Provincia di Torino, 1998; Walter Canavesio, "La fotografia corredo visivo di un ottocentista", in "Un uomo di lettere. Marino Parenti e il suo epistolario", edited by Angelo d'Orsi, Torino, Provincia di Torino, 2001, pp. 275-287; Walter Canavesio, "Marino Parenti e la fotografia", in "Per Paolo Costantini. Fotografia e raccolta fotografiche", curated by Tiziana Serena, Pisa, Scuola Normale Superiore, 1998, vol. I, pp. 33-40.