Venice in Beautiful Color Images 125 Years Ago: The Rialto Bridge, St. Mark’s Basilica, Doge’s Palace & More

Venice 1

A few months ago, Men­tal Floss put up a post of “Fan­tas­tic 120-Year-Old Col­or Pic­tures of Ire­land.” Fan­tas­tic pic­tures indeed, although the nature of the tech­nol­o­gy that pro­duced them seems as inter­est­ing to me as the 19th-cen­tu­ry Irish life cap­tured in the images them­selves. They came from the Library of Con­gress’ geo­graph­i­cal­ly orga­nized archive of pho­tocrom prints, a method per­haps known only to die-hard his­tor­i­cal pho­tog­ra­phy enthu­si­asts. For the rest of us, the Library of Con­gress’ page on the pho­tocrom process explains it: “Pho­tochrom prints are ink-based images pro­duced through ‘the direct pho­to­graph­ic trans­fer of an orig­i­nal neg­a­tive onto litho and chro­mo­graph­ic print­ing plates.’ ”

Venice 2

Its inven­tor Hans Jakob Schmid came up with the tech­nique in the 1880s, a decade that began with col­or pho­tog­ra­phy con­signed to the realm of the­o­ry. While Pho­tocrom prints may look an awful lot like col­or pho­tographs, look at them through a mag­ni­fy­ing glass and “the small dots that com­prise the ink-based pho­to­me­chan­i­cal image are vis­i­ble.” “The pho­to­me­chan­i­cal process per­mit­ted mass pro­duc­tion of the vivid col­or prints,” each col­or requir­ing “a sep­a­rate asphalt-coat­ed lith­o­graph­ic stone, usu­al­ly a min­i­mum of six stones and often more than ten stones.”

But that unwieldy-sound­ing tech­nol­o­gy and labo­ri­ous-sound­ing process has giv­en us, among oth­er strik­ing pieces of visu­al his­to­ry, these lush images of fin de siè­cle Venice, which the writer of place Jan Mor­ris once described as “less a city than an expe­ri­ence.”

Venice 3

At the top of the post, we have a view of the Rial­to Bridge, which spans one of the city’s famous canals; below that a scene of pigeon-feed­ing in St. Mark’s Piaz­za; the image just above leaves the pigeons behind to view the inte­ri­or of St. Mark’s Basil­i­ca.

Venice 4

The pho­tos below, all also tak­en between 1890 and 1900, depict the exte­ri­or and inte­ri­or of the Doge’s Palace, as well as its view of San Gior­gio Island by moon­light.

Venice 5

We may not con­sid­er these “real” col­or pho­tographs, but the col­ors they present, vivid­ly applied in the print­ing process, some­how more accu­rate­ly rep­re­sent the spir­it of late 19th-cen­tu­ry Europe — one of his­to­ry’s tru­ly vivid peri­ods, in one of its endur­ing­ly vivid human envi­ron­ments. More col­or images of fin-de-siecle Venice can be viewed here.

Venice 6

via Men­tal Floss

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Take a Vir­tu­al Tour of Venice (Its Streets, Plazas & Canals) with Google Street View

How Venice Works: A Short Film

Venice in a Day: From Day­break to Sun­set in Time­lapse

Venice is Way Under Water…

Hand-Col­ored Pho­tographs of 19th Cen­tu­ry Japan

The First Col­or Pho­tos From World War I: The Ger­man Front

The Old­est Col­or Movies Bring Sun­flow­ers, Exot­ic Birds and Gold­fish Back to Life (1902)

Col­in Mar­shall writes on cities, lan­guage, Asia, and men’s style. He’s at work on a book about Los Ange­les, A Los Ange­les Primer, and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

by | Permalink | Comments (0) |

Sup­port Open Cul­ture

We’re hop­ing to rely on our loy­al read­ers rather than errat­ic ads. To sup­port Open Cul­ture’s edu­ca­tion­al mis­sion, please con­sid­er mak­ing a dona­tion. We accept Pay­Pal, Ven­mo (@openculture), Patre­on and Cryp­to! Please find all options here. We thank you!

Leave a Reply

Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.