[Plaster Casts of Bodies, Pompeii]

Giorgio Sommer (Italian, born Germany, 1834–1914)

ca. 1875
Albumen print from glass negative
Image: 27.3 x 38.4 cm (10 3/4 x 15 1/8 in.) Sheet: 27.8 x 38.4 cm (10 15/16 x 15 1/8 in.) Mount: 47.8 x 55.8 cm (18 13/16 x 21 15/16 in.)
Credit Line:
Purchase, Harriet Ames Charitable Trust Gift, 2012
Accession Number:
  • Description

    Much as photography fixes a moment in time, the eruption of Mount Vesuvius on August 24 in a.d. 79 preserved the city of Pompeii in eerie detail. Fascination with the site began with its excavation in the mid-eighteenth century and continues to this day. Sommer’s studio supplied views of Pompeii and other popular tourist destinations in Italy, Switzerland, and Austria in the era before visitors were equipped to make their own photographic records. Adopting the viewpoint of a gawking spectator, Sommer’s image offers a startlingly graphic perspective on casts formed by pouring plaster into the voids left where human remains had been engulfed by volcanic ash and mud. Around the time this photograph was made, a writer referenced the disconcerting power of Pompeiian photographs that “reveal with a fearful fidelity the dreadful agonies of some of those who perished at Pompeii, and, while looking at the pictures, it is very difficult to divest the mind of the idea that they are not the works of some ancient photographer who plied his lens and camera immediately after the eruption had ceased, so forcibly do they carry the mind back to the time and place of the awful immurement of both a town and its people.”

  • Signatures, Inscriptions, and Markings

    Inscription: Printed in negative BL: "41 41 Impronte umane. (Pompei)"

  • Provenance

    [...]; [Photo Verdeau, Paris, 2009]; [Charles Isaacs Photographs, Inc.]

  • See also
    In the Museum
    Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History