New from ca. 1860: Stereoscopic images of the Museo Boncompagni Ludovisi by the Naples firm of Grillet

An illustrated essay by Corey Brennan

Stereoscopic view by Grillet firm of north wall of Museo Boncompagni Ludovisi at transition between Sale I and II, with Ares Ludovisi at center. Collection of HSH Prince Nicolò and HSH Princess Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi, Rome.

Claude Victoire Grillet and Jean-Louis Grillet (1807-1866) were French photographers active in Naples from the early 1850s; they were pioneers in the production of stereroscopic images, apparently introducing the technique to Italy. Of the two, it is Claude Grillet who is better known to historians of photography, especially for his landscape scenes of southern Italy and Sicily. Those included pathbreaking images from early 1858 of the devastation caused by a 16 December 1857 earthquake in Basilicata.

It was Jean-Louis’ daughter Jeanne Grillet who brought real commercial success to the family studio at Naples, establishing by ca. 1860 “Grillet & Co.” at Via S Lucia 28 and later Via Chiatamone 6. Touting the label of “photographer of the King”—i.e., Ferdinand II (1830-1859) of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies—her studio produced an enormous number of portraits of distinguished contemporaries, including several of Giuseppe Garibaldi. Statuary—which naturally attracted early photographers who had to battle with long exposure times—was another specialty. In Rome, the Grillet company had an exclusive arrangement with the Libreria Spithöver, located at Piazza di Spagna, 85. Spithover distributed Grillet views in both glass and card.

From Murray’s A handbook of Rome and its environs (10th edition, 1871)

At some point in (apparently) the late 1850s or early 1860s the firm of Grillet—not yet designated as ‘Grillet & Co.’—produced striking stereoscopic images on glass of the interior of the ‘Casino delle Statue’ on the grounds of the Villa Ludovisi. That ‘Casino’ housed, in just two rooms, the famed sculptural collection of the Museo Boncompagni Ludovisi.

The family sold the bulk of their most important sculptures from the actual Casino delle Statue in 1901 to the Comune of Rome, where most can be seen today elegantly displayed in the Museo Nazionale Romano—Palazzo Altemps. (The fate of the exterior sculptures are a different story, with the Boncompagni Ludovisi family still retaining 18, the ex-Ludovisi palace which is now the US Embassy in Rome another 80, and wider dispersal of the rest.) The fullest treatment of this important collection is that of Beatrice Palma (ed.), I marmi Ludovisi, Museo Nazionale Romano 1.4-6 (Rome: De Luca, 1983-1986)

View of Casino delle Statue of the Villa Ludovisi, ca. 1885, as it stretches toward east; photograph commissioned by Principe Ignazio Boncompagni Ludovisi. Collection of HSH Prince Nicolò and HSH Princess Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi, Rome. Elements of this building are today incorporated into a garage on the grounds of the US Embassy in Rome.

The Grillet set was discovered, quite by chance, in the Villa Aurora by Tatiana Caltabellotta of the Amministrazione Boncompagni Ludovisi in July 2017. It offers twelve views in all of the interior of the statue galleries, with the glass plates elegantly housed in a red leather-covered box labeled (in gold) VILLA LUDOVISI below a closed crown. This Grillet collection does not show up in standard photography reference sites such as Luminous Lint and may indeed be otherwise unknown. The condition of these glass plates is generally good, though some show the almost inevitable mold which any able conservator could clean.

Details of commercial lettering on Grillet stereoscopic slides of Villa Ludovisi, plus presentation box. Collection of HSH Prince Nicolò and HSH Princess Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi, Rome.

 

Stereoscopic view by Grillet firm of Museo Boncompagni Ludovisi Sala II, east wall: colossal head of Hera with veil. Collection of HSH Prince Nicolò and HSH Princess Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi, Rome.

As it happens, the Grillet boxed set is not the earliest photographic record of the Ludovisi collection of sculptures. At some point in the period 1845-1855 the famed British photographer James Anderson (1813-1877) staged a number of views of major pieces in the Boncompagni Ludovisi ‘Casino delle Statue’, isolating individual sculptures with dark drapery to create dramatic images. Though undeniably powerful—and evidently a commercial success—Anderson’s work with the Ludovisi collection offers no real information on the details of its arrangement in the gallery space.

From Murray’s A handbook of Rome and its environs (10th edition, 1871)

 

View by James Anderson (1813-1877) of the Ares Ludovisi, photographed ca. 1845-1855. Arrangement of black drapery to isolate sculpture visible at lower left, upper right, and lower right. Credit: Getty Museum

View by James Anderson (1813-1877) of the Ludovisi Orestes and Electra group, photographed ca. 1845-1855. Arrangement of black drapery to isolate sculpture visible at upper right. Credit: Getty Museum

View by James Anderson (1813-1877) of the Ludovisi Suicidal Gaul group, photographed ca. 1845-1855. Arrangement of black drapery to isolate sculpture visible at upper left. Credit: Getty Museum

For the actual arrangement of sculptures in the ‘Casino delle Statue’ space, it is the Grillet set of stereoscopic photographs that makes a critical contribution. A few features immediately spring to the eye from these images.

First, the placement of the sculptures corresponds precisely, so far as one can tell, to the comprehensive annotated inventory that Theodor Schreiber published in 1880, Der antiken Bildwerke der Villa Ludovisi in RomIn other words, once positioned in the ‘Casino delle Statue’, the Ludovisi pieces didn’t move much. One notes that the Boncompagni Ludovisi assigned inventory numbers by Sala—not in an unbroken sequence for the Museum as a whole.

Second, at least to the 21st century eye, the two Boncompagni Ludovisi gallery rooms seem packed with art; Schreiber counted 63 and 58 pieces respectively between the two Sale, and the Grillet photos certainly give the impression of a crowded presentation. Ancient pieces of course predominate, but some “modern” (i.e., 16th and 17th century) masterpieces make a contribution too.

Third, the major pieces seem to have been pushed against walls—indeed, Schreiber in his inventory uses the gallery walls as an organizing principle—thus robbing them of a good portion of their three-dimensional effect. (The positioning of the Bernini Rape of Proserpina is especially notable in this regard.) The long walls of the narrow Casino delle Statue building ran north and south; but the shorter east and west walls were also lined with sculptural works. Below, once can see that the sequence of Grillet photos nos. 9-12 (my designation) reveal much of the content of the Sala II (short) west and (long) north walls.

Fourth, one photo (Grillet no. 4) captures the transition between the two Sale, and suggests that the division between the two rooms was rather amorphous (and again, cluttered). And it seems that the Boncompagni Ludovisi designated the second Sala as the site to display their most famous pieces. In the Grillet collection, just three of the twelve views are centered on the first Sala.

These peculiarities of presentation did not escape contemporaries. For instance, in visiting the Villa Ludovisi in 1873, Henry James opined that “the sculptures in the little Casino [i.e., Casino delle Statue] are few, but there are two great ones — the beautiful sitting Mars and the head of the great Juno, thrust into a corner behind a shutter.” The Grillet images do not in the least validate James’ observation on the “few” sculptures, but they clearly show the famed Juno Ludovisi next to a window shutter.

Featured below are views from the Grillet stereoscopic plates, in the order in which one would encounter these pictured sculptures in the Ludovisi gallery.

Grillet no. 1 = Museo Boncompagni Ludovisi Sala I, view toward entrance along south wall. From left: Theseus herm (partial view) [inv. I 1 = Schreiber 1]; sitting robed female figure (Muse?) [inv. I 2 = Schreiber 2]; male standing figure (Bacchus?) [inv. I 3 = Schreiber 3]; Pan and Daphnis [inv. I 4 = Schreiber 4]; portrait bust of Demosthenes [inv. I 5 = Schreiber 5]. Photo: collection of HSH Prince Nicolò and HSH Princess Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi, Rome.

Grillet no. 2= Museo Boncompagni Ludovisi Sala I, east wall: the famed Venus of Giambologna, ex-Cesarini collection [inv. I 30 = Schreiber 39]. Now in US Embassy, Rome. Photo: collection of HSH Prince Nicolò and HSH Princess Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi, Rome.

Grillet no. 3= Museo Boncompagni Ludovisi Sala I east wall: statue of Heracles [inv. I 33 = Schreiber 45], and (partial view of) seated, robed female figure [inv. I 35 = Schreiber 47]. Photo: collection of HSH Prince Nicolò and HSH Princess Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi, Rome.

Grillet no. 4 = Museo Boncompagni Ludovisi, view of transition of Sala I and II, toward north wall. Standing figure at far left (Sala I south wall) is a Herm of Heracles with club [Inv. I 48 = Schreiber 62]. Then, along north wall, from left: portrait head of a bearded Roman on porphyry column [inv. I 21 = Schreiber 24 +25]; ancient marble column [inv. I 22 = Schreiber 26]; flat, round relief sculpture [inv. I 23 = Schreiber 27]; male statue in chlamys (Hermes?) [inv. I 24 = Schreiber 28]; then, in what was deemed Sala II, the famed Ares Ludovisi [inv. II 1 = Schreiber 63]; and (partial view of) unbearded male portrait bust [inv. II 2 = Schreiber 64]. Photo: collection of HSH Prince Nicolò and HSH Princess Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi, Rome.

Grillet no. 5= Museo Boncompagni Ludovisi Sala II, along north wall, from left: partial view of Roman portrait head, allegedly Nero [inv. II 6 = Schreiber 68]; the famed Orestes and Electra [inv. II 7 = Schreiber 69]; Roman portrait head [inv. II 8 = Schreiber 70]. Photo: collection of HSH Prince Nicolò and HSH Princess Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi, Rome.

Grillet no. 6= Museo Boncompagni Ludovisi Sala II, north wall: statue of pouring satyr [inv. II 9 = Schreiber 71]; over life-size portrait head of Roman male [inv. II 10 = Schreiber 72]. Photo: collection of HSH Prince Nicolò and HSH Princess Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi, Rome.

Grillet no. 7 = Museo Boncompagni Ludovisi Sala II, east wall: colossal head of Hera with veil [inv. II 15 = Schreiber 78]. Photo: collection of HSH Prince Nicolò and HSH Princess Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi, Rome.

Grillet no. 8 = Museo Boncompagni Ludovisi Sala II, south wall, from extreme left: (behind shutter) bearded Greek head [inv. II 24 = Schreiber 88]; female head [inv. II 25 = Schreiber 89]; statue of a young Dionysus [inv. II 26 = Schreiber 90]; suiciding Gaul and his wife [inv. II 28 = Schreiber 92]. Photo: collection of HSH Prince Nicolò and HSH Princess Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi, Rome.

Grillet no. 9 = Museo Boncompagni Ludovisi Sala II west wall: colossal head of the Juno Ludovisi [inv. II 41 = Schreiber 104]. Photo: collection of HSH Prince Nicolò and HSH Princess Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi, Rome.

Grillet no. 10 = Museo Boncompagni Ludovisi Sala II, west wall, from left: partial view of colossal head of Juno Ludovisi [inv. II 41 = Schreiber 104]; Bernini’s Rape of Proserpina [inv. II 43 = Schreiber 106a]; partial view of colossal bust of Hygieia [inv. II 44 = Schreiber 107]. Above: relief sculpture of Judgment of Paris [inv. II 42 = Schreiber 106]. The Bernini sculpture is now in the Galleria Borghese. Photo: collection of HSH Prince Nicolò and HSH Princess Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi, Rome.

Grillet no. 11 = Museo Boncompagni Ludovisi Sala II, north wall, from left: (partial view of) bearded bust of Roman (inv. II 62 = Schreiber 115); colossal statue of seated Apollo with lyre (inv. II 68 = Schreiber 116); bust of Marcus Aurelius (inv. II 54 = Schreiber 117). Photo: collection of HSH Prince Nicolò and HSH Princess Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi, Rome.

 

Grillet no. 12 = Museo Boncompagni Ludovisi Sala II, looking along north wall toward west, from left: colossal statue of Hygieia (inv. II 44 = Schreiber 107); [hard to identify statue]; female robed statue [inv. II 49 = Schreiber 112]; colossal statue of Athena Parthenos [inv. II 61 = Schreiber 114]; colossal statue of seated Apollo with lyre [inv. II 68 = Schreiber 116]; very partial view of bust (nose only) of bust of Marcus Aurelius [inv. II 54 = Schreiber 117]; resting warrior [inv. II 65 = Schreiber 118]. Fully five other reliefs busts [Schreiber nos. 108-111, 113, 115, 117] seem to have been interspersed between these sculptures, but are not visible in the photo. Photo: collection of HSH Prince Nicolò and HSH Princess Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi, Rome.

Comments

  1. Salve, vorrei chiedere, se è possibile avere le numerazione e le didascalie esatte delle Stereoscopie su vetro di Grillet presentate nell’articolo?

    • Sfortunamente, i numeri originali ecc non sono visibili…per ogni stereoscopia c’è un quasi-cornice di nastro nero! Ho provato vederli…

      • peccato, sto cercando di ricostruire la numerazione e il catalogo delle Stereoscopie su vetro di Grillet.
        cmq grazie mille

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