Size Matters. Scale and Measure in Photography


Nineteenth-century photographs of artworks often include graduated standards. Engravings and drawings carried scales long before the advent of photography, but because of its status as mechanical reproduction, the new technique seems to have been particularly suitable for the inclusion of measuring rods. Their appearance may have been the result of chronological circumstances, as photography developed in the very years of Europe’s debates over the unification of measurement systems. Such debates gave origin to the metric system, which gained in popularity around the 1840s, when cameras started enjoying commercial success. As the European debate over measurement systems produced a plethora of opinions, so photographs displayed graduated standards and comparators in a variety of ways, as shown by the images of this section. Whereas in some pictures the metric scale stands in the foreground, in others it is hardly noticeable, if not absent. Such absence was praised by Goethe, who most famously declared that artworks could not be grasped by those who measure, thus legitimizing the omission of measurements in both art historical narratives and photographs.

Nicolaus van Achst: obelisk in Rome’s Piazza San Pietro, copper engraving, 17.9 x 32.5 cm, 1589, inv. no. 9437°

Unidentified photographer: door of the relic chapel in Rimini’s Tempio Malatestiano, albumin print, 32.5 x 43.6 cm, before 1898, inv. no. 851

Studio Giacomo Brogi: detail of the parapet of Palazzo Medici-Riccardi in Florence, albumin print, 25.6 x 20.3 cm, before 1898, inv. no. 2583

Ivo Bazzechi: quadrant on the façade of the Santa Maria Novella church in Florence, 153 x 153 cm, baryt print, 17.4 x 23.4 cm, 1960s/early 1970s, inv. no. 540032

Paul Frankenstein: Porphyry foot, 22 cm long, Vienna, Antikensammlung, silver-gelatin print, 12.0 x 17.1 cm, before 1933, inv. no. 86015

Studio O.Böhm: cinerary urns from the Nin Necropolis in Croatia, Murano, Museo Vetrario, h. ca. 28 cm (left), ca. 33 cm (right), baryt print, 11.3 x 15.1 cm (left photograph), 11.3 x 16.1 cm (right photograph), before 1933, inv. no. 90955

Unidentified photographer: Venus of Malta, h. ca. 13 cm, Malta, The National Museum of Archaeology Collection, baryt print, 11.8 x 16.5 cm, before 1961, inv. no. 171409

Unidentified photographer: Seating girl made in amber, h. ca. 5 cm, New York, Metropolitan Museum, baryt print, 13.9 x 19.7 cm, before 1998, inv. no. 543644

Romualdo Moscioni: bronze statue of Heraclius or “Colossus of Barletta” in Barletta, h. 450 cm, albumin print, 37.6 x 25.2 cm, before 1893, inv. no. 4210

Luigi Artini: lateral facade of the Cathedral of Florence with working person, baryt print, 17.2 x 23.6 cm, 1975, inv. no. 579414

Ivo Bazzechi: chapel in the SS. Apostoli church in Florence after the flood of November, 4th, 1966, silver-gelatin print, 22.2 x 18.0 cm, inv. no. 498173

Romualdo Moscioni: South façade of the Cathedral of Matera, albumin print, 27.2 x 39.4 cm, before 1893, inv. no. 4281

© KHI in Florence | 19.09.2021 12:57:53