Our History

From craftsmanship to art. The hub of the Alinari family was to be found in Oltrarno, a Florentine working-class borough, where their interests were divided amongst shops and laboratories and the new, fascinating art of photography. As a backdrop, we see a century passing away, a changing world, the close of an age. The family of Sebastiano Alinari and Scolastica Pagnori was a poor one, and according to custom, their sons Romualdo (1830-1890), Leopoldo (1832-1865) and Giuseppe (1836-1890) began work at a young age.

In the mid-nineteenth century, the Lorena family ruled Florence; Italy and Europe were feeling the first vibes of national and republican passions. Leopoldo was apprenticed to the well-known copper engraver Giuseppe Bardi, Romualdo to the Batacchi laboratory and Giuseppe sent to learn the trade of inlaying from Falcini. From an early age, the Alinari boys showed forth an innate quality which would soon lead them to the great adventure of photography: initiative. In 1852, Leopoldo went on to open his own laboratory in via Cornina, making the step from tracing to photography, and the three young brothers set off together toward this new frontier. In 1854, they set up their own business ‘Fratelli Alinari’.

Photography in Florence was at that time the exclusive domain of a select few civil and military technicians (Officine Galileo and Istituto Geografico Militare respectively). The Alinaris latched onto it immediately, beginning to produce photographs of the city’s monuments and works of art. These Florentine plates made their way to Paris where the well-known photographers Bisson sold them to the illuminated bourgeois there, whose positivistic spirit had taken immediately to the invention of Nièpce and Daguerre.

Growth in orders led the three brothers to expand into a larger and better location in via Nazionale in 1863, a historic date for the Alinaris.

In 1865, Leopoldo died at the age of thirty-three, and his two brothers took over the flourishing business. By that time, they were already well-known all over Europe. Giuseppe and Romualdo travelled around Italy photographing the country’s most beautiful art and landscapes for enthusiasts all over the world. They were not the only Italian photographers, but the first to organise their work so carefully and curate their archive so meticulously.

The Alinari brothers became the founders and promoters of the Italian photographic society in 1889 and received an award at the Paris International Expo.

In 1890, at the peak of their company’s international fame, the two brothers died only four months apart from each other. At that point, the direction of the laboratory and its staff of thirty-some odd members was taken on by Vittorio (1859-1932), son of its founder Leopoldo Alinari.

Vittorio Alinari was perhaps less technical than his predecessors, but was a youth of many artistic and literary interests. Fully integrated into the cultural climate of his time, Vittorio quickly turned his villa in Fiesole into a gathering place for the intelligentsia of Florence and beyond. He was a friend to the most brilliant intellectuals of his time from Renato Fucini, Giosuè Carducci and Isidoro Del Lungo to Giuseppe Vandelli, Giovanni Poggi and Guido Spadolini.

Vittorio associated with and encouraged the Macchiaioli (Florentine impressionist painters), many of whom were his friends, and who participated in the contests he organised. In 1900, for example, he called together the best artists to depict the Virgin and Child and a mother and son. The following year, he proposed illustrating the Divine Comedy. The gauntlet was taken up on both occasions by painters like Fattori, Zanardel, Spadini, Zardo and Muccioli.

In the meantime, Fratelli Alinari photographed works from the greatest museums in Europe: in 1905, Florentine photographers travelled to Dresden, Paris and Athens. Between 1909 and 1915, the company began to publish the Decameron, illustrated by Tito Lessi. During the same period, Vittorio undertook a new and exciting mission: to capture the Italian landscapes cited by Dante in the Divine Comedy. The Italic Landscapes in the Divine Comedy came out in 1921 with preface by Giuseppe Vandelli. It was almost the artistic and visual testament of Vittorio Alinari: the year before the volume was published, fatigued and drained by family tragedies (the death of his son Carlo in 1910), Vittorio decided to resign direction of Fratelli Alinari. The company was handed over to an anonymous buyer acronymed Idea – Istituto di edizione artistiche. Up to the time the business was sold, Fratelli Alinari had produced over 70,000 photographs. Art, nature, architecture, history: the Alinari’s genius had shared beauty with the world. Vittorio Alinari died in Leghorn on 28 August 1932.