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Emilio Sommariva's photo archives

The Emilio Sommariva archives, bought from the photographer's heirs in 1979, gathers togheter the complete photographic studio archives and every document related to it, from 1904 to 1973.

It includes 2,814 prints of different techniques and subjects and in several formats, and about 50,000 negatives mostly on glass, as well as ten manuscripts, mostly inventory and address books, and other documents.

In November 2004 the Ministry has formalised the acquiring of 2,561 original prints of the study and of some important items, including the lenses of one of Sommariva's pupils.

From 2001 to 2008, thanks to a special funding from the Ministry of Cultural Heritage and to the strong contribution of the Fondazione Cassa di Risparmio delle Provincie Lombarde, the collection has been renovated and adequated to the museum standards of preservation and to the ministry's cataloguing ones. The study, cataloguing and rearrangement works aimed to the creation of a database (catalogue cards provided with digitised images, classified "F") which can be accessed by the users both at the library and at the Santa Teresa Mediatheque.

Since 2006 8,762 cards and images of the archive are available on line, on the Internet Culturale site

In 2008 the cataloguing and digitisation of nearly 14,930 works has been completed (5375 prints, in addition to the negatives), and will soon be available also on Internet Culturale.

The consultation of original prints is possible at the Braidense Library in case of proved urgent need; on request, by appointment.

Typical topics of the pictures sheltered in Sommariva's collection are portraits, landscapes and pictures of works of art.

Between 1910 and the end of the 1930 - crucial years for the photographer's fame and creativity - he portrayed the most important figures from international aristocracy and middle-class, personalities from the arts, politics and culture, the actresses in prose theatres and the firsrt movie stars. For almost every family or single portrait is often possible to see the entire posing sequence, with all the original plates, even the ones which were chosen to be discarded.

The Sommariva Photo Archives portrayed many views of Milan for documentation or journalistic purposes, but the author's talent as a landscape photographer comes out at its best in the works all around Italy for the Italian Touring Club.

The photographs of paintings, sculptures, handiworks and architectures taken by Sommariva from 1910 to his death are of big value for the Italian artistic history.

Emilio Sommariva
(Lodi, 1883 - Milano, 1956)

Emilio Sommariva is one of the most important figures in the history of italian photography. His artistic and professional story, as well as his archive's ones, are tightly connected with the city of Milan and to the library institutions.

Emilio Sommariva was born in Lodi in 1883, son of Luigi, amateur painter and photograph employee. Three months after his birth, his family moves to Milan; the young Sommariva, at fourteen years old, shows his interest to start an artistic career, and between 1897 and 1899 attends Ornato's evening class at the Brera Academy.

In 1902 he opens his own studio, which is enlarged in 1905 with a wide terrace meant for portrait posing.

In spite of his achievements as a portrait photographer, Sommariva passes through years of financial and professional straits: to pay his debts he accepts every job, specializing himself even in group and industrial photographs, as well as architecture and painting ones. His works in this field start soon to be requested by important artists such as Umberto Boccioni, Aroldo Bonzagni, Carlo Carrà and other futurists like Gaetano Previati and Adolfo wildt, this because they see Sommariva not as a simple photographer, but as a big interpreter of their works.

In 1911 Sommariva is rewarded with the Golden Medal of the Fair Committee at the International Fair of Scientific and Artistic Photography in Rome, and with an honour diploma at the Industrial Exposition in Turin. The following years, up to 1937, are his working key years: Sommariva becomes popular, in Italy and abroad, taking part in many photographic exhibitions n Europe and in the United States. Conforming to the aestethic standards of the pictorial photography, he portrays, against self-made backcloths, the most important celebrities from the worlds of aristocracy, middle class, art and cinema, never stopping his collaborations with industry and architecture, which have become part of a joyful studio routine. Sommariva also shots, all around Italy, landscape pictures and urban views, dividing himself between the pure artistic intent and real reporter's skills. Many pictures also describe aristocracy's social life: from the assistance to the poors and orphans in the very early years of the twentieth century, to the amusement occasions.

In 1922 is awarded the first prize at the International Fair of Professional Photography in London.

In 1923 he participates to the International Fair of Photography, Optic and Cinematography in Turin, in 1926 he is granted the patent of photographer for the royal house

In 1931 is awarded the Medaglia del Capo del Governo for the National Artistic Photography Competition in Rome, and the Golden Medal from the Queen.

In 1938, after his refusal to enrol in the fascist party, his patent of photographer is withdrawed.

In the last air raid over Milan, in 1943, Sommariva loses his house and study, but the most of the original prints and plates are spared. In 1955 the studio is granted the Golden Medal from the Chamber Of Commerce and Industry of Milan.

Emilio Sommariva dies in Milan on the 12th of september, 1956.

The studio continued his activity after his death, until 1980.

Development and Bibliography

In november 2004 Nomos Edizioni has printed a monograph by Giovanna Ginex, titled Divine. Emilio Sommariva fotografo. Opere scelte 1910 - 1930.

the volume collects and analises Sommariva's portaits of the culture and movie stars, in the context of the international professional photography of that time.

Essential bibliography

Emilio Sommariva. Mostra dei suoi quadri, Catalogo della mostra, Galleria Rastellini - Via Brera 4, Milano 1950

Carlo Bertelli, Obiettivo aperto in Brera. Notizie della Pinacoteca, Inverno 1982, Milano 1982

Nicolas Monti e Mario Quadraroli, edited by, Emilio Sommariva, Catalogo della mostra, Comune di Lodi - Assessorato alla Cultura, Lodi 1984

La grande Milano tradizionale e futurista. Marinetti e il futurismo a Milano, catalogo della mostra tenutasi a Milano, Palazzo di Brera, edizioni De Luca, Roma 1995

Giovanna Ginex, Il fondo fotografico Emilio Sommariva, fotografo a Milano and Il Fondo Sommariva in Tiziana Serena, edited by, Per Paolo Costantini. Indagine sulle raccolte fotografiche, Quaderni IX, Centro di Ricerche Informatiche per i Beni Culturali, Scuola Normale di Pisa, Pisa 1999, vol. II

Gianna Piantoni e Anne Pingeot, edited by, Italie 1880 - 1910. Arte alla prova della modernità, catalogo della mostra tenutasi a Roma, Galleria Nazionale d'Arte Moderna, 22 dicembre 2000 - 11 marzo 2001 e a Parigi, Musée d'Orsay, 9 aprile - 15 luglio 2001, Umberto Allemandi, Torino 2000, published also in French with title: Italies 1880 - 1910. L'art italien à l'épreuve de la modernité, Paris, Édition de la Réunion des Musées Nationaux, 2001

Alberto Manodori, edited by, Disegnare con la luce. I fondi fotografici delle biblioteche statali, Retablo, Roma 2002

Giovanna Ginex, edited by, Divine. Emilio Sommariva fotografo. Opere scelte 1910 - 1930, Nomos Edizioni, Busto Arsizio 2004