The Archivio Parisio in Naples

by Luca Sorbo

The invention of photography fascinated both the public and the Neapolitan intellectuals from the very beginning.

Macedonio Melloni, director of the Osservatorio Vesuviano, read the first Relazione Intorno al Dagherrotipo (Report on the Daguerreotype) in Italy on November 12th, 1839 at the Royal Academy of Sciences. Gaetano Fazzini, physicist and architect, was the third person in Italy to test the new invention in public on Thursday 28th November at 10.30 at Palazzo Diomede Carafa, where the Minister of Internal Affairs Santangelo lived, as reported by Omnibus, a cultural magazine of the time.

Unfortunately, this enthusiasm was not matched by the attention of the institutions as it happened in France, England and US and the very substantial amount of material produced in the city in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries has not been correctly and systematically preserved. Naples has a strange fate whereby the images of the city from the nineteenth century can be found easily in the archives of other Italian and European cities but not in the Neapolitan ones. That happens because Naples was one of the main stops of the Grand Tour and so the photographs were purchased by rich tourists who took them to their hometowns where they were later acquired by the local institutions.

The partial knowledge of the images produced and of the photographic studios operating in the city causes a great difficulty in reconstructing the history of photography in Naples for both the nineteenth and the twentieth century.

I would like to notice that photography was recognized as a cultural heritage in the Italian law only in 1999 and so we find academic courses about history of photography only starting from that date. Before, we have to mention just the fundamental contributions of Italo Zannier, who started a systematic study of the history of photography and Paolo Monti, who focused his attention more on the potential of photographic language.

The photographic collections in Naples, both public and private, are very numerous, but few have been cataloged and they are accessible only through a complex bureaucracy.

A first overview of them can be found in the monographic issue of the Meridione magazine that I edited in 2002 with Silvia Cocurullo, entitled Napoli e la fotografia, and in the monographic issue of the same magazine, of which I was the sole editor in 2007, entitled Saggi e riflessioni sulla fotografia a Napoli, both published by ESI.

The space of an article is insufficient to describe all that photographic collections and all the contributions to the history of photography. However, I am pleased to focus on a collection that, in addition to preserving images of absolute interest both for Naples and Italy, is also a place of great beauty, where everyone can breathes the charm of photography: the Studio Parisio, today Archivio Parisio, located in Piazza Plebiscito inside the arcade of San Francesco di Paola and in front of the Royal Palace. This was were the photographic atelier of Giulio Parisio was settled. It was the most important studio in Naples in the interwar period and it still has the studio, some equipment and the space dedicated to the exhibitions. The Archivio Parisio association, founded in 1995 thanks to the initiative of Stefano Fittipaldi, manages the seventy thousand plates of the studio’s founder and has also the honor and responsibility of managing the seven hundred thousand plates of the Troncone studio, active since the beginning of the twentieth century until the Seventies. The role of Giuliana, Stefano’s wife, is fundamental in the activity of the association: she is committed to protecting and enhancing this important cultural legacy with great passion and spirit of sacrifice.

Nowadays the Archivio Parisio finds itself in a deep crises, due to bureaucratic problems relating to the property. We all wish to see it becoming the future House of Photography in Naples, a place where, in collaboration with Villa Pignatelli, the rich heritage of Naples and Campania photography could be promoted.

I wish to underline without any hesitation that Giulio Parisio is one of the great masters of Italian photography, a complex author who has been able to combine an extraordinary commercial ability with an artistic research of the highest level. Marinetti called him the most futurist of Neapolitan photographers and this recognition is more than deserved, because Parisio’s visual innovations were highly effective and consistent. He applied the suggestions of the Manifesto of Futurism to photography, while developing his own personal research. His creations used very simple means such as cardboard cutouts, but his images were realized with great expertise and effective play of shadows and light. See, for example, the famous image called Uscita dal convento, Mascherine e Pinguini. Parisio also used photo compositions, solarizations, optical distortions, photomontages. Unfortunately, his undeniable links with the fascist regime have brought a dark shadow on his activity that lasts until now. In 1938 he was the one who took care of the scenography for Hitler’s visit to Naples and in 1942 he was nominated podestà of Cava dei Tirreni: his closeness to Fascism is evident, but today, a century after those tragic events that upset Italian recent history, we should have the ability to distinguish between the man’s personal choices and his talent as a photographer.

Ingresso dell’Archivo Parisio © Ludovico Brancaccio

Born in Naples on March 14, 1891, Parisio was one of the best-known Italian photographers of his time. He participated in numerous national and international events between 1930 and 1935, such as the Concorso fotografico nazionale, the Mostra Fotografica Futurista a Trieste in 1932, thePrima Grande Mostra Fotografica Nazionale Futurista a Roma in 1933, thePrima Biennale Internazionale d’Arte Fotografica, the Mostra Universale di Bruxelles in 1935.

Another genre in which he excelled was the portrait, which was not just a commercial activity, but became part of his artistic research. He used to meet the subjects he was going to portray several times in order to understand their physical and psychological characteristics and enhance them in the final work. The use of soft focus and fine print papers made his images unique and they became a real status symbol for the upper middle class and the aristocracy of the city.

His best known work is the exhibition Pittori e scultori napoletani attraverso il mio obiettivo, which opened on March 27, 1929 in the room of the Bottega di decorazione, where he had 102 portraits on show.

He produced a lot of works for the fascist propaganda, such as, for example, the photograph titled DUX which showed an enormous crowd in Piazza Plebiscito.

In 1933 at the Esposizione internazionale di Chicago he presented a new process, the “fotoluminose”, which were two-by-twenty-meter porcelain films enclosed between two crystals.

A considerable number of plates in his archive are related to industrial documentation. His first relevant work was for the Manifatture Cotoniere mediterranee. He then realized images for  ITALTRAFO (which later became ANSALDO), FMI, MECFON, ITALSIDER, CEMENTIR, SOFER, PIRELLI, OLIVETTI, RAL, FAG, TERME DI AGNANO, TERME DI CASTELLAMMARE, ETERNIT, CAROLA, ALOSA, GAMBOGGI, GETRA. In 1964 the studio was taken over by his son who tried to continue his father’s business, but with less success, also due to the mutated historical social conditions.

Archivio Parisio collections include another fund, the one of  relating to the Edizioni Fotografiche F.lli Troncone, a photographic studio founded in 1929 by the brothers Vincenzo (1887-1973) and Guglielmo Troncone (1890-1970). Seven hundred thousand plates testify to their collaboration with various newspapers, the first of which was Il Mezzogiorno Sportivo, which later turned into the Mezzogiorno. Since 1930, the Troncone brothers have collaborated with ROMA, documenting the chronicle of the entire city.

Incendio del campanile del Carmine © F.lli Troncone / Archivio Fotografico Parisio

They had continuously collaborated with the Cantieri Navali di Castellammare since 1939. After the Second World War, despite the many difficulties, they managed to start new collaborations with the Prefecture, the Municipality of Naples, the Ente Autonomo Porto, the Ente provinciale del Turismo, with the Scuola Militare Nunziatelle and others. In the 1950s, Guglielmo Troncone’s son Vittorio took over the business and collaborated in the new photographic campaigns for Tirrenia, Società italia, Lloyd Adriatico, Adriatica and Compagnia Napoletana Gas. In the mid-60s the founders retired from the business, while Vittorio abandoned photojournalism to deal only with the economic-industrial field.

The Parisio archive is a cultural heritage of the city of Naples and of whole of Italy as well and its safeguard and enhancement requires a serious commitment from the institutions.

For any other information see

The archive is accessible on appointment only.

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