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Alphonse Bernoud was a successful photographer in Italy from the early years of photography in the 1840s through to the 1870s.
He experimented cleverly with different techniques and processes including the daguerreotype, probably the calotype and later wet plate collodion.
Between 1842 and around 1850 his presence in Genoa as a daguerreotypist has been proved. Later he was the first professional photographer in Italy to have a three contemporary commercial photographic businesses operating in three cities - Florence, Naples and Livorno [Eng. Leghorn].
In 1854 he took part in the Esposizione Industriale Toscana, in Florence, where he showed “photographic proofs and stereoscopic views on glass and paper”. His presence at the exposition was mentioned in La Lumière. In the following years the important French weekly, which was dedicated to photography, gave news about Bernoud’s activity in Italy and about his presence at international expositions. His relations with his homeland are also demonstrated by the fact that from 1855 to 1864 he was member of the Société Française de Photographie.
If not the first, he was certainly one of the first to experiment in Italy with the new photographic forms including the stereoscopic view and the carte-de- visite. His series of stereoscopic views were among the first published in Italy together with those created for the French market by French photographers including Ferrier & Soulier, Henri Plaut, Jules Andrieu and Jean-Baptiste Nicolas Jannelle.
Most of his photographic prints, in all the sizes, do not include any title inscribed on the negative or handwritten on the mount. In some prints of a standard size (19x24 cm), of Neapolitan subjects, we find a number and a title handwritten in the below edge of the negative and sometimes the declaration of the author: “A. Bernoud”.
The commercial catalogue of Bernoud’s atelier , printed in Livorno [Leghorn] in 1864 (Catalogo delle fotografie pubblicate da Alfonso Bernoud fotografo di S.M. il Re d’Italia e di S.A.R. il principe di Carignano. Ritratti, Vedute di Città, Monumenti, e Soggetti Artistici (diverse grandezze). Si eseguiscono le commissioni contro vaglia postale e se ne fa la spedizione a rischio del richiedente. Firenze, Via dell’Orivolo 51 ; Napoli, Palazzo Berio, Toledo 256; Livorno, Via Vittorio Emanuele 71, Tipografia di E. V.A Sardi, pp. 32), the only one currently known, includes four sections.
“Portraits, great size [that is 19x24 cm] (A. Series)” includes the portraits of King Vittorio Emanuele, of actress and actors, of Giuseppe Verdi.
“Vues of towns and monuments, great size (B. Series)” includes 150 subjects in the subsections: Florence (nn. 1-99), Livorno (nn. 100-128), Pisa (nn. 139-147), Lucca (nn. 148-150).
“Artistic subjects, great size (C. Series)” includes works in Florence and Livorno [Leghorn] (17 numbers).
“Frescoes reproduced from the originals (Series idem)” includes frescoes in Florence and in Siena (13 numbers).
“Artistic subjects, half plate size (Series idem)” includes reproductions of work from museums and collections in Rome, Milan, Naples, Florence, Sienna, Genoa, Turin, Venice, Parma, Dresden, Munich, Saint Petersburg, London ( 136 numbers).
"Portraits, carte de visite size (D. Series) " includes 150 portraits.
“Vues of towns and monuments, carte de visite size (E. Series)” includes 149 subjects in the subsections : Florence (nn. 1-63), Sienna (nn. 64-68), Livorno (nn. 69-102), Pisa (nn. 103-111), Lucca (nn. 112-114), Venice (nn. 115-139), and views of Perugia, Orvieto, Pompei, Wurtemberg, Vienna, Chartres, Dijon, Hamburg (nn.140-149). The presence of a limited number of views of Lucca is significant as neither Giorgio Sommer nor Robert Rive included it in their catalogues and the Alinari Brothers included only two views between 1856 and 1873.
"Artistic Subjects, carte de visite size (F. Series)” includes 253 subjects.
The catalogue doesn’t include the production of Neapolitan or stereoscopic views although they had been a very important part of the atelier’s production for many years.
A helpful secondary source: the Giornale generale della bibliografia italiana (from 1863: Bibliografia Italiana) published monthly lists from 1861 to 1864 – without numbering - of photographic subjects in various sizes of photographers including Bernoud. Currently this is the most important source to reconstruct a partial catalogue of his products.
The list published by the periodical include photographic prints "great size" (19x24 cm), "half plate" (that is cabinet, 12x16.5 cm), stereo and carte de visite. Concerning the portraits, the artistics subjects ("religious subjects" and "genre scenes") and the views, "great" size or carte de visite, in the lists it’s not to find important additions to the 1864 catalogue. The views of great size added the following subjects which are not included in his 1864 catalogue:
Especially interesting are the lists of stereoviews. They include the following subjects: Florence, 120 views (including 69 views of the 1861 Esposizione Italiana); Tuscany (Florence, Siena, Pisa, Livorno, Lucca, Massa), 24 views; Siena, 7 views; Pisa, 13 views; Naples and its environs, 136 views (including 34 views of the Villa Reale); eruption of Vesuvius in 1858, 27 views; earthquake of December 1857 in Salerno and Basilicata, 109 views; Pompei, 47 views. The total sum is 510 stereoviews.
It’s likely that existed a printed catalogue of the stereoscopic views but no copy is currently known.
In not a few stereoscopic prints by Bernoud with editorial mount the catalogue number is not present but we could suppose that these correspond to a first phase before a catalogue existed.
In many other stereocards the catalogue number is written in pen-and-ink on the recto of the mount or in the negative of one image of the stereoscopic couple, other times pen-and-ink or pencil written in the mount’s verso. The study of the numbering makes one suppose that the first cataloguing was modified.
The stereo numerical series are:
Naples and its environs: first cataloguing: 1-100, second cataloguing: 1-300
Florence: first cataloguing: 100-200, second cataloguing: 400-500
Sienna, first cataloguing: 190 and following
Sienna, Pisa, Livorno, Lucca, second cataloguing: 500-550
Bernoud paid special attention to the photographic portrait from the period of the daguerreotype through to the last phase of his work in Lyon as the 1864 catalogue demonstrates.
Bernoud was one of the fashionable portrait photographers especially in Naples and Livorno, in the Fifties and the Sixties. He was accredited to the Bourbon court and then to the royal Italian court. He took portraits of sovereigns, statesmen, high ranking military officers, diplomats, actors, men of letters and science. A portrait of Ferdinand II in Naples taken by him in 1859 had extraordinary success, in all sizes.
In 1864 Bernoud edited in Livorno the collection of contemporaneous personage’s portraits: L’Italia Contemporanea. Grande Album di celebrità artistiche, letterarie, diplomatiche, politiche e militari, Biografie per Yorick, Ritratti per A. Bernoud, proposed in form of weekly instalments each including a photographic portrait carte de visite size and a biographical note written by Yorick (the Florentine lawyer Pietro Ferrigni).
Bernoud was also one of the photographers which precociously devoted themselves to the documentation of the works of ancient and contemporary art. Photographs by him were used in publications edited for the inauguration of contemporary works of sculpture, as the monument to Nicola Pisano in the Pisa’s Campo Santo, work of Salvino Salvini (1862), or the funeral monument to Countess Berta Moltke Ferrari-Corbelli by Giovanni Dupré, erected in the San Lorenzo church in Florence (1864).
He was fully conscious of the documentary potential of photography. That is demonstrated by not only the portraits of contemporary personalities but also by the photographs of many important events including: the devastations produced by the earthquake of December 1857 in the territories of Salerno (Val d’Agri e Vallo di Diano) and Basilicata; the construction of the railway line Florence-Pistoia (1859); the presence in Tuscany of the French troops sent by Napoleon III (1859); the fallen in the battle of Lissa (20 July 1866); the Neapolitan revolt and the siege of Gaeta (1860-1861); the brigandage in the southern territories of Italy; the Sardinian, French, English ships in the Neapolitan harbour (1859-1861); the 1861 Esposizione Italiana; the Reali distretti di Caccia nelle provincie meridionali (special album; 1861-1862); the unveiling of the monument to Dante in Santa Croce place, Florence (14 May 1865); the historical carousel in Florence to celebrate the marriage between Prince Umberto Savoia and Princess Marguerite (2 May 1868).
From the end of the 1850s and until the 1870s some periodicals, and in particular the French L’illustration, Journal Universe, often utilized Bernoud’s photographs to derive xilographic illustrations for the articles, for instance that ones on the 1857 earthquake, that were also abundantly utilized in the scientific survey realized in the earthquake’s area by the Irish engineer Robert Mallet, charged by the Royal Society of London.
In 1867 Bernoud edited the Album delle battaglie, dei combattimenti ed altri fatti memorabili dell’Indipendenza italiana dal 1859 al 1866, a collection of 105 photographic great size prints reproducing the paintings of the historical Gallery of Prince of Savoia and Carignano, cousin of King Vittorio Emanuele II.
Bernoud cultivated also the genre and costume photography, taking part in the large production in those fields interpreted in Naples by photographers including Conrad, Rive, Sommer, Grillet, Esposito and by others up to the Alinari brothers.
The topographical view and the landscape view have a non negligible part in the work of Bernoud, even if this part of his production seems to have had a minor commercial success – possibly because of the greater prices - among the international travellers than the ones of Giorgio Sommer or Robert Rive. A more ample diffusion had nevertheless his stereoscopic views.
For the views Bernoud adopted all the size, but very rarely – at least so far known - sizes bigger than the 19x24, that instead were adopted by photographers as Sommer or Rive.
Mostly of his carte de visite views are obtained by countertype, that is by photographing view prints size 19x24.
The Bernoud’s photographs of architecture and of urban spaces demonstrate a calibrated and marked taste for the composition, going back rather often, for the choice of the subject or of the point of view, to the intaglio iconographic tradition. It’s worth noting some attention to modern architectures ad urban spaces ( for instance work by Pasquale Poccianti in Livorno, by Matas, Villa or Poggi in Florence, by Marasca, Grasso, Francesconi and Bechi in Naples). Often in these images the vertical lines of the architecture are not such.
For the stereoscopic views it results that Bernoud has utilized mostly a camera with only one lens and sliding on rail.
In 1867 Bernoud take part in the Universal Exposition in Paris, showing many prints including a number of southern landscapes.
In the early Seventies Bernoud left Italy to going back to Lyon. In Italy his ateliers were taken over by Achille Mauri in Naples, by the Bartolena brothers in Livorno and by Gustavo Matucci in Florence.
Mauri, after having taken over the archive and the seat of Bernoud in Naples, utilized the Bernoud’s negative on glass of Neapolitains subjects under his own name and that make complicate and difficult to recognize the works of Bernoud. Only if we consider that Mauri was active in Naples only from around the mid-Sixties and if we individuate in the image elements which can be assumed as terms ante-that date, it is possible sometimes to recognize the paternity of Bernoud.
In 1875 Bernoud gift to the Société Française de Photographie, by Ernest Lacan, a set of his photographs of botanic subjects.
G. Fanelli, Alphonse Bernoud (1820-1889). Firenze, Napoli, Livorno, series ‘Contributi a una storia della fotografia’, IV, private edition, Paris 2011, 136 pages, 10 figures, 111 plates; published also on the website. which includes the 1864 Bernoud’s catalogue, a complete set of marks of the Bernoud’s daguerreotypes and prints (size 19x24, stereo, carte de visite), with an extensive bibliography.
G. Fanelli, L’anima dei luoghi. La Toscana nella fotografia stereoscopica, Mandragora, Firenze 2001.