Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name



Art History


Maria Antonella Pelizzari

Committee Members

Emily Braun

Patricia Mainardi

Geoffrey Batchen

Subject Categories

History of Art, Architecture, and Archaeology


Photography, Italy, Risorgimento, Nationalism


The introduction of photography to Italy in 1839 coincided with the nationalist movement known as the Risorgimento, which began with a series of Constitutionalist uprisings in 1820 and culminated in political Unification in 1861. Photography thus developed alongside a country in the making, and the project of building a nation was historically entwined with the new technology. This dissertation analyzes the impact of photography on the political movement that made Unification possible, emphasizing how early photographers engaged and expanded upon the iconographic traditions of prints, paintings, and literature in order to envision the Italian nation. By depicting politically charged monuments, sites, and figures in modern and life-like images that circulated among local and international audiences, photography made a significant contribution to constructing and disseminating a national discourse during the Risorgimento.

Framing this history between the invention of photography in 1839 and the Second War of Independence in 1859, I examine the production and reception of photography among Italy’s scientific communities, publishing industry, and artistic circles in order to demonstrate how those cultural networks seized upon the medium as a potential vehicle for propagating nationalist political goals. In order to elucidate the cultural significance that photography held during the Risorgimento, I present case studies of several representative figures: the botanist Antonio Bertoloni (1775-1869), the physicists Macedonio Melloni (1798-1854) and Gaetano Fazzini (1806-1878), and the optician Giovanni Battista Amici (1786-1863), who, through transregional and transnational scientific networks, spread the earliest information about the invention of photography, arguing for its utility to the economic progress of Italy; the print publisher Ferdinando Artaria (1781-1843), who issued an early commercial series of aquatints based on daguerreotypes that portrayed Milan as an exemplary modern Italian city; the pioneering photographer Stefano Lecchi (1804-1863?) whose documentation of the aftermath of the defense of the Roman Republic in 1849 contributed to the personal commemoration of the Risorgimento; the painter and photographer Giacomo Caneva (1813-65) whose staged peasant studies and allegorical scenes resonated with the development of a national art within Italy; and the editor, engraver, and photographer Luigi Sacchi (1805-61) who photographed throughout the Italian peninsula, depicting Italy’s monuments as a source of shared history, and thus national identity. Whereas previous studies of photography and the Risorgimento have focused primarily on the images of political heroes that circulated after the Second War of Independence in 1859, this thesis is the first to examine critically the contribution of early photographers to the development of a shared identity before that important date.

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