In Light of Rome Photography Exhibition Opens

Courtesy of Bowdoin College Museum of Art

The Basilica of St. Peter’s and the Spina di Borgo Seen from Castel St. Angelo, ca. 1855, salt print, by James Anderson.

Earlier this month the Bowdoin College Museum of Art in Brunswick, Maine, opened In Light of Rome: Early Photography in the Capital of the Art World, 1842-1871. A comprehensive exhibition of early photography in the Eternal City, it features 112 works, many never before exhibited publicly or published, by nearly fifty transnational photographers. These photographs capture Rome’s landmarks—the Forum, the Colosseum, the Trevi Fountain, the Tiber River—as seen through the eyes of the pioneers of the medium, such as French daguerreotypist Joseph-Philibert Girault de Prangey and the Welsh calotypist Calvert Richard Jones, among others. The panorama of images on display manifests the pivotal role Rome played in the history of photography.

Courtesy of Bowdoin College Museum of Art

The Forum with the Column of Phocas, the Arch of Septimius Severus, and the Church of Santi Luca e Martina, 1849, salt print by Frédéric Flachéron.

“The advent of photography transformed how one saw and understood the seen world, pausing time and letting viewers imagine themselves in the scene,” said Frank Goodyear, co-director of the museum and co-curator of the exhibition. “In Light of Rome traces the technological innovations and advancements in photography through images of one of the most recognizable and photographed destinations in the world. It is easy to take photography of the Eternal City for granted in our modern times, so this exhibition is a special chance to slow down and remember the wonder inspired by the invention of photography.”

The photographs on exhibit have been loaned by collectors Mary K. and John F. McGuigan Jr. of Maine, whose collection is one of the most comprehensive groups of nineteenth-century Roman photographs held outside Italy, according to the museum.

“It is exciting to be collaborating with the Bowdoin College Museum of Art to share works from this collection and underscore Rome’s connections to the history of photography as an artistic medium,” said John F. McGuigan Jr., who co-curated the exhibition. “For several decades now, I have been researching and collecting photographic works from this period, and this is a great opportunity to make them publicly accessible to a wide audience, both through the exhibition and the accompanying catalogue.”

In Light of Rome remains on view through June 4, 2023. The illustrated, hardcover catalogue is available from Penn State University Press.