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  Fratelli Alinari

The proprietors of the world's oldest photography firm were Alinari brothers Romualdo (1830-1890/1891), Leopoldo (1832-1865), and Giuseppe (1836-1890). Born in Florence, Italy to Scolastica (Paganori) and Sebastiano Alinari, a local engraver. Leopoldo was the first to take up the family business, studying with engraver Luigi Bardi, during which time he learned about the new medium of photography. With his mentor's assistance, Leopoldo opened a small laboratory to continue his photographic experiments, which he transformed into a studio in 1852. His brothers joined him after completing their apprenticeships, and the business was promptly renamed Fratelli Alinari, Fotografi Editori.

The firm initially specialized in albumen prints of churches, historical landmarks, and other buildings or artworks of cultural importance. Romualdo served as chief administrator and Giuseppe presided over technical processes, leaving Leopoldo free to do what he loved most - traveling throughout Italy and photographing monuments, objets d'art, and any local residents who caught his discerning eye. The firm developed a lucrative business transforming Leopoldo's photographs into prints, postcards, and travelogues. Their international reputation was further strengthened by their strong showing at the Paris Exposition in 1855. The following year, two of their catalogs documenting the buildings and art in the cities of Assisi, Perugia, Todi, and Viterbo were translated into French. Fratelli Alinari perfected the wet collodion process for their negatives, and in 1858 focused their efforts on artistic reproductions. The Alinari photograph of Michelangelo's sculpture of Moses presently resides in Los Angeles's J. Paul Getty Museum. That same year, Prince Albert of Great Britain (husband of Queen Victoria and a photography enthusiast) commissioned the firm to photograph Raphael's drawings housed in Venice's Accademia Gallery as well as Archduke Karl of Hapsburg's private art collection in Vienna.

By the 1860s, Fratelli Alinari extended their operations to include a portrait gallery and publishing business. After Leopoldo's death in 1865, the brothers continued his pet project of chronicling the daily lives of the townspeople. Leopoldo's son Vittorio (1859-1932) ably filled his father's shoes, and his creative vision resulted in the receipt of a gold medal awarded at the Paris International Exhibition in 1889. Vittorio Alinari continued to oversee the firm after the deaths of his uncles Giuseppe and Romualdo, and during his tenure published several popular tour guides, art volumes, and texts showcasing life in Florence, Rome, Umbria and Venice.

In 1920, Vittorio Alinari sold his interest in the firm, which became the first official European public company. The Fratelli Alinari Museum of the History of Photography, the first of its kind in Italy, was established in 1985, and by 1998, the renamed Fratelli Alinari Foundation for the History of Photography began digitalizing its massive photographic collection. More than 780,000 original photographs and the brothers' original photographic equipment are currently archived at the Hotel Alinari, located at Largo Fratelli Alinari, 15, in their hometown of Florence.

2017 Alinari Archives (URL:

2017 Dictionary of Art Historians (URL:

2007 Encyclopedia of Nineteenth-Century Photography, Vol. I (New York: Routledge/Taylor & Francis Group LLC), pp. 25-27.

2017 Fratelli Alinari (URL:

2011 Looters, Photographers, and Thieves by Pasquale Verdicchio (Teaneck, NJ: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press), pp. 69-70, 73.

2017 Leopoldo Alinari (1865-1890) (URL:

2017 Photographers of the 19th-Century (URL:

2017 Raffaello Sanzio (1483-1520) (URL:

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