Taormina (Sicily), Casa Cuseni Museum shows the only color autochrome ever published by Von Gloeden
Taormina (Sicily), Casa Cuseni Museum shows the only color autochrome ever published by Von Gloeden

The Baron Wilhelm Von Gloeden’s description provided by the portal Tgcom 24 on the 3rd of November 2014, affects the memory of Taormina foster son. The Mediaset news website talked about him as a man who «passed off homopornographic materials for rich tourists as art». Actually, Von Gloeden’s story is different. Known as “Barone Guglielmo”, Wilhelm Von Gloeden was born in Wismar, in Germany, on the 16th September 1856 and died in Taormina in 1931. The town owes its fame also to the photographer’s activity, who described the town to the whole world through his photographic landscapes, monuments and especially the different faces of Sicilians with Greek, Arabic, Norman traits. His first important photography was published on the first Art Magazine in Europe, The Studio, in spring 1893; in the same number appeared Aubrey Beardsley’s drawings for Solome, written by Oscar Wilde.

By the way, the immense production by Von Gloeden has been stereotyped only in male nudes, which is untrue, since Wilhelm Von Gloeden described also landscapes, female faces and religious events. It is also clear that Von Gloeden owned at that time one of the only camera existing in Taormina, and lots of people asked the artist to portray a relative, a ceremony or something special for them. Right after the 2nd world war many travelers, especially from Germany, reached the house of Francesco Buciunì, known as “il moro”, to admire Von Gloeden’s photographs, and Buciunì traded on the most required by his clients, it means the Sicilian boys posing in the Von Gloeden’s style; here-hence the stereotype of Von Gloeden as male nudes photographer.

Examining the artist’s date of death, 1931, it is easy to understand that Von Gloeden, from those well-known poses (1893 until 1931) was experimenting other techniques of imprints and the printing. It does not surprise, that besides photographic plates made in the period between 1890-1900 exist imprints with other techniques and devices. Confirming this theory, Casa Cuseni, the museum of Taormina, exhibits a spectacular color autochrome, the first one recorded as Wilhelm Von Gloeden’s authentic work.

The Autochrome is a color photographic process based on the additive synthesis, patented on the 17th of December 1903 by Louis and Auguste Lumiere or rather by the “Société Anonyme des Plaques et Papières photographiques A. Lumière et ses Fils” (Anonymous society of photographic plates and sheets A. Lumière and sons). Thanks to this method Gabriel Veyre, shot in 1905 the first color images during a trip in Marocco, where he was elected Sultan’s official photographer. The process, introduced to the public only in 1907, made use of tiny “tiles” similar to the mosaic ones, obtained by potatoes starch. Photography through this technique was a long and complicate work, but for sure very revolutionary for that time, and it remained the only industrial technology able to fix color images until 1935, when the Kodak introduced a more trustable and especially quicker technology, the famous color-sensitive emulsion named Kodachrome: not only the blank and white, but also the color. How is it possible?

A photography genius as Wilhelm Von Gloeden, an artist known in the whole Europe, awarded with golden medal, often joining photographic exhibitions, had still to imprint black and white photographic plates, while the Lumiere brothers had already invented the autochrome plates and were coming to our Sicily to provide evidence of our landscapes in an anthology, which is nowadays preserved in France. A talented man so odd and outgoing as Wilhelm Von Gloeden could not avoid to adapt himself to the times. Then the autochrome became very popular and endowed a picturesque trait to the images, that surely has touched Wilhelm Von Gloeden, who beside being a professional photographer was also an amateur painter.

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