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HomeContents > People > Photographers > Giacomo Caneva

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Dates:  1813 - 1865
Born:  Italy, Padua
Active:  Italy
Italian photographer and painter.
Giacomo Caneva, Della fotografia. Trattato pratico di Giacomo Caneva pittore prospettico (Roma: Tip. Tiberina, 1855)
Piero Becchetti (ed.), Giacomo Caneva e la scuola fotografica romana (1847-1855): Roma e dintorni nelle calotipie del Caneva (Firenze: Alinari IDEA, 1989) ISBN: 8872921066, ISBN 13: 9788872921067 [Catalogue of an exhibition held in the Palazzo Rondanini alla Rotonda, Rome, May 10-June 24, 1989.]

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Giacomo Caneva was born in Padua in 1813. In 1838 he moved to Rome where he worked as an artist or as a "perspective painter", as he loved to call himself. Of his oil paintings of Rome few canvas are known and Caneva immersed himself in photography soon after it was announced by Daguerre in 1839.
The first proof of Caneva as a photographer is found in the register of the Caffé Greco, which was both a café and a meeting place of artists and European visitors - many of whom used it as the delivery point for their correspondence. In the 1845 Caffè Greco register Caneva's name appears for the first time "G. Caneva, Photographer, via Sistina N.100, 3° floor" and later the address has changed to "Via del Corso near S.Carlo 446." In the same register on another page is written the name of James Anderson who also declared his profession as a photographer.
With every probability Giacomo Caneva began his photographic activities as a daguerreotypist and we can deduce this from his very early use of paper negatives which were the size of whole plates indicating the use of Daguerreian camera equipment and from the fact that when in 1855 he wrote his small essay on photography it described all the methods used but in the two pages on the Daguerreotype he demonstrated a profound knowledge of the method. We can attribute to Caneva particular Daguerreotype from his friend the painter Luigi Cochetti. Still speaking of the Daguerreotype, two receipts are known for his friend and print dealer Tommaso Cuccioni in which he pays for some of Caneva's Daguerreotypes sold to clients. In my personal opinion I feel that by 1849 Caneva had already abandoned the Daguerreotype for at least a couple of years and the term "Daguerreotype" was used - as was frequently the case at the time - as a synonym for "photograph"
The first known salt paper prints of Giacomo Caneva were taken in 1847 was a beautiful view of the Temple of Vesta, signed "Rome 1847 G. Caneva". One or two years before this he knew the husband and wife photographers Guilloz-Saguez and during this period Caneva also knew Count Flachéron and later Eugène Constant, Alfred Normand and the other frequenters of the Caffè Greco. This group devoted themselves, either as a profession or a hobby, to photography and they formed the "The Roman Photographic School" also nicknamed the "Circolo del Caffé Greco".
Giacomo Caneva besides being a professional photographer was also a perspective painter and in 1840 he had worked on to the geometric restructuring of the gardens of Villa Torlonia for the Venetian architect Giuseppe Jappelli.
His photographs often demonstrate his continuing interest in painting through his landscapes, photographs of works of art that served as design studies for other painters. His images of the inhabitants of Rome are also particularly beautiful and he photographed both the young and the elderly. Italian painters and foreigners that frequented the Roman artistic environment purchased the photographs of Caneva to assist in enhancing their own pictorial skills and it is largely thanks to this that the photographs of Giacomo Caneva have been preserved.
The known Caneva prints are salt prints from calotype negatives, later (perhaps from 1854-55) varnished salt prints or dilute albumen prints exist. It is probable that images made with wet-collodion negatives exist but as yet these are not known.
The size of his works depends on the years the prints were made. His first photographs were taken with a Daguerreotype camera and they were around 16 x 21 cm. From around 1850 they grew to 21 x 27 cm and two or three years later they became around 34 x 24 cm. This holds true for the views but his genre scenes were usually smaller. Caneva, sometimes, signed his works on the back of the print.
In 1855 Caneva wrote and published what is considered to be the first Italian photographic essay "Della Fotografia. Trattato pratico di Giacomo Caneva, pittore prospettico" in which he described all the contemporary photographic techniques and processes that had been invented up to that time - and he showed an unbelievable knowledge of all of them. He also declared that he had made all of them and this indicates that he made the wet collodion and albumen prints besides the salt paper prints that have survived. In the same year he published an entitled photographic album "Le vedute di Roma" and sold it from his shop at Via del Babbuino 68/69.
In 1864 Caneva was entrusted by the widow of Thomas Cuccioni to compile the inventory of the negatives and photographic equipment of the studio of his friend who had recently disappeared. Caneva died in Rome the following year - 1865.
Many calotypes of Giacomo Caneva were printed after his death by his friend Ludovico Tuminello who returned to Rome in 1869 after a long exile. He sold Caneva prints with his own captions and name and this, before it was understood, created considerable confusion amongst Italian photo historians.
[Kindly contributed by Marco C. Antonetto, Jan 15, 2008] 

Printed biographies

The following books are useful starting points to obtain brief biographies but they are not substitutes for the monographs on individual photographers.

• Lenman, Robin (ed.) 2005 The Oxford Companion to the Photograph (Oxford: Oxford University Press)  [Includes a short biography on Giacomo Caneva.] 
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