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Cimelia Photographica

The Problem of Colour

Although photographic reproduction of drawings, architecture and sculpture was done from very early on, paintings presented a particular challenge for the new visual medium of photography. The reason for this was the chromaticity of the objects, which was extremely difficult to reproduce using early photographic processes due to their low sensitivity to colour. The light-sensitive substances used to prepare the negative plates reacted most quickly to blue, in addition to white, while red, yellow and green were absorbed very slowly, which resulted in incorrect translation of the colours to the corresponding grey values. This had fatal consequences for the reproduction of frescoes and paintings: Sections of the picture that were originally blue were depicted in white in the photograph; red, yellow and green appeared much too dark and were hardly distinguishable from one another. This problem is particularly evident in the photographs of the Giotto frescoes in the Cappella degli Scrovegni in Padua, which were taken in 1865 by the Venetian photographer Carlo Naya. For this reason, frescoes and paintings were often photographed using monochrome lithographs that were produced specifically for this purpose. Only after the Berlin photo chemist Hermann Wilhelm Vogel developed a process from 1873 onwards which allowed a significant improvement in the colour-sensitivity of the negative plate, was it possible to achieve more satisfactory results when photographing colour objects over the years that followed.


Carlo Naya: “Giotto: Twelve year old Christ in the Temple, Fresco in the Cappella degli Scrovegni in Padua”, albumin print, 1865. Photograph: 18.7 x 23.8 cm (inventory no. 119413)

Carlo Naya: “Giotto: The Resurrection of Lazarus, Fresco in the Cappella degli Scrovegni in Padua”, albumin print, 1865, photograph: 18.5 x 24.1 cm (inventory no. 119415)

Médéric Mieusement: “The Wedding at Cana. Fresco in the cloister of the Abbey of Abondance (Haute-Savoie, France)”, albumin print, August 1882. Photograph: 27.5 x 39 cm (inventory no. 5620)

Vittorio Jacquier: “Fra Angelico: Angel from the Tabernacolo dei Linaioli, Museo di San Marco in Florence” albumin print, around 1880. Photograph: 25.3 x 18.6 cm (inventory no. 16470)

Unidentified photographer: “Copy after Tizian: Christ’s Entombment, Wallraf-Richartz Museum in Cologne”, coloured silver-gelatine print. Photograph: 25.4 x 37.6 cm (inventory no. 407360)

Josef Albert: “Bruno Piglhein: Moritur in Deo, Alte Nationalgalerie in Berlin”, albumin print, 1879. Board: 65.5 x 48.5 cm (inventory no. 595326)

Franz Hanfstaengel: “Carlo Maratta: Holy Family, Dulwich College in London”, carbon print?, 1900. Photograph: 24.3 x 19.6 cm (inventory no. 268666)

Franz Hanfstaengel: “Bernardino Licinio: Portrait of a Lady, Picture Gallery of the Old Masters in Dresden” carbon print, 1901. Photograph: 37.4 x 30.8 cm (inventory no. 7020)

Adolphe Braun & Cie.: “Leonardo da Vinci: Saint Anna (Detail from 'Saint Anna with the Virgin Mary and the Christ Child'), Louvre Museum, Paris”, carbon print, before 1904. Board: 70 x 53.8 cm (inventory no. 5124)




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Vittorio Jacquier: “Fra Angelico: Angel from the Tabernacolo dei Linaioli, Museo di San Marco in Florence” albumin print, around 1880. Photograph: 25.3 x 18.6 cm (inventory no. 16470)

© KHI in Florence | 25.10.2021 15:34:29