Wilhelm von Gloeden

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Wilhelm vom Gloeden

Wilhelm von Gloeden in 1891
Born(1856-09-16)September 16, 1856[1]
Volkshagen Palace near Wismar
DiedFebruary 16, 1931(1931-02-16) (aged 74)
Taormina
NationalityGerman
FieldPhotography
WorksCaino
Hypnos
PatronsOscar Wilde
Friedrich Alfred Krupp
Richard Strauss
Wilhelm II, German Emperor
Influenced byGuglielmo Plüschow
Giovanni Crupi
InfluencedRobert Mapplethorpe
Cecil Beaton
Andy Warhol
Bruce Weber
Joseph Beuys
 
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Wilhelm vom Gloeden

Wilhelm von Gloeden in 1891
Born(1856-09-16)September 16, 1856[1]
Volkshagen Palace near Wismar
DiedFebruary 16, 1931(1931-02-16) (aged 74)
Taormina
NationalityGerman
FieldPhotography
WorksCaino
Hypnos
PatronsOscar Wilde
Friedrich Alfred Krupp
Richard Strauss
Wilhelm II, German Emperor
Influenced byGuglielmo Plüschow
Giovanni Crupi
InfluencedRobert Mapplethorpe
Cecil Beaton
Andy Warhol
Bruce Weber
Joseph Beuys

Baron Wilhelm von Gloeden (September 16, 1856 – February 16, 1931) was a German photographer who worked mainly in Italy. He is mostly known for his pastoral nude studies of Sicilian boys, which usually featured props such as wreaths or amphoras suggesting a setting in the Greece or Italy of antiquity. From a modern standpoint, his work is commendable due to his controlled use of lighting as well as the often elegant poses of his models. Innovative use of photographic filters and special body makeup (a mixture of milk, olive oil, and glycerin) to disguise skin blemishes contribute to the artistic perfection of his works.

Famous in his own day, his work was subsequently eclipsed for close to a century, only to re-emerge in recent times as "the most important gay visual artist of the pre–World War I era" according to Thomas Waugh.[2]

Contents

Biography

Wilhelm von Gloeden was born a Chateau de Volkshagen, near Mecklenburg, Germany, on 15 September 1856.[3]

After studying art history in Rostock (1876), he studied painting under Karl Gehrts at the Weimar Kunstakademie (1876–77) until he was forced by lung disease (apparently tuberculosis) to interrupt his schooling for a year, convalescing at a sanatorium in the Baltic Sea resort of Gröbersdorf. In a search for health, he travelled to Italy (1877–78), first staying in Naples before moving on to Taormina in Sicily. He lodged at the Hotel Vittoria before buying a house near San Domenico.[4] Apart from the period 1915-18 during World War I, when he was forced to leave Sicily to avoid incarceration as an undesirable alien, he remained in Taormina until his death in 1931.

The mayor of Taormina in 1872-82 was the German landscape painter Otto Geleng (1843–1939), who had moved there in 1863. Through him, von Gloeden became acquainted with the local inhabitants. He set up his photographic studio in Taormina at first as a hobby and was exhibiting his work internationally by 1893 (London), including Cairo (1897), Berlin (1898–99, including a solo exhibition), Philadelphia (1902), Budapest & Marseilles (1903), Nice (1903 & 1905), Riga (1905), Dresden (1909) and Rome (World Fair 1911).

His well-known study of two young boys clinging to an Ionic column was published in The Studio (London) in June 1893 (above a nude study of Cecil Castle by Baron Corvo), which brought his work to the notice of a wider public.[5]

In 1895, when the family fortune was lost through the "Hammerstein affair", he received as a gift from his friend and patron the Grand Duke of Mecklenburg-Schwerin, a large-format plate camera. Soon his work brought him visitors from Europe, including royalty, industrialists, writers (Oscar Wilde in December 1897) and artists. In 1930, von Gloeden ceased work as a photographer and sold his house on the Piazza S. Domenico in Taormina in return for an annuity & residence rights.

Von Gloeden's signature on a print

Von Gloeden scrupulously shared the proceeds of his sales with his models. The names of some of the models are known: Vincenzo Lupicino; Peppino Caifasso aka Carafasso; Pietro Caspano aka Capanu; Nicola Scilio aka Sciglio; Giuseppe De Cristoforo; Maria Intelisano (niece of the parish priest of nearby Castelmola).[6]

His cousin, Guglielmo Plüschow (1852–1930), also a photographer of nudes, helped von Gloeden get more familiar with the technical side of photography (until then von Gloeden had not been a hobby photographer). Other important teachers of von Gloeden were local photographer Giovanni Crupi (1859–1925) in the Via Teatro Greco and the pharmacist/photographer Giuselle Bruno (1836–1904) in the Corso.

Works

Boy disguised as an odalisque in Gloeden's garden in Taormina. The reverse bears the stamp of Gloeden's heir, Pancrazio Buciunì, and the date: May 16, 1914
Burial Place of von Gloeden

While today von Gloeden is mainly known for his nudes, in his lifetime he was also famous for his landscape photography that helped popularize tourism to Italy. He also documented earthquake damage in Reggio Calabria & Messina in 1908. This may also explain why the locals mostly approved of his work.

The majority of von Gloeden's pictures were made before World War I, in the period 1890-1910. During the war, he had to leave Italy. After returning in 1918, he photographed very little but continued to make new prints from his voluminous archives. In total, the Baron took over 3000 images (and possibly up to 7000), which after his death were left to one of his models, Pancrazio Buciunì (also spelled Bucini; his dates sometimes given as c.1864-c.1951 but probably should be 1879-1963), known as Il Moro (or U Moru)[7] for his North African looks. Il Moro had been von Gloeden's lover since the age of fourteen, when he had first joined the household of the Baron. In 1933, some 1000 glass negatives from von Gloeden's collection (inherited by Buciuni) and 2000 prints were confiscated by Benito Mussolini's Fascist police under the allegation that they constituted pornography and were destroyed; another 1000 negatives were destroyed in 1936, although Buciuni was tried and cleared at a court in Messina (1939–41) of disseminating pornographic images. Most of the surviving pictures (negatives and prints) are now in the Fratelli Alinari photographic archive in Florence (which in 1999 bought 878 glass negatives & 956 vintage prints formerly belonging to Buciuni to add to its existing collection of 106 prints)[8] and further prints (which fetch hundreds of pounds at auction) are in private collections or held by public institutions such as the Civico Archivo Fotographico in Milan.

Attitudes towards his work during his lifetime and later

Von Gloeden generally made several different kinds of photographs. The ones that garnered the most widespread attention in Europe and overseas were usually relatively chaste studies of peasants, shepherds, fisherman, etc., featured in clothing like togas or Sicilian traditional costume, and which generally downplayed their homoerotic implications. He also photographed landscapes and some studies were of, or included, women. His models were usually posed either at his house, among the local ancient ruins, or on Monte Ziretto (c.600m.), located two kilometres to the north of Taormina and famous in antiquity for its quarries of red marble. He wrote in 1898: "The Greek forms appealed to me, as did the bronze-hued descendants of the ancient Hellenes, and I attempted to resurrect the old, classic life in pictures. ... The models usually remained merry and cheerful, lightly clad and at ease in the open air, striding forward to the accompaniment of flutes and animated chatter. More than a few greatly enjoyed the work and anxiously awaited the moment when I would show them the finished picture."[9]

More explicit photos in which boys aged between about ten and twenty, and occasionally older men, were nude (sometimes with prominent genitalia) and which, because of eye contact or physical contact were more sexually suggestive, were traded "under the counter" and among close friends of the Baron, but "as far as is known, Gloeden's archive contained neither pornographic nor erotically lascivious motifs".[10]

The popularity of his work, especially in Germany, England, and America in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries can possibly be attributed to three major reasons:

Other similar photographers at the time

Von Gloeden's cousin, Guglielmo Plüschow, similarly photographed male nudes in Rome, Italy. From an artistic standpoint, Plüschow's work is somewhat inferior to von Gloeden's as the lighting in Plüschow's works is often too harsh and the poses of the models look quite stilted. Plüschow was already a firmly established photographer when von Gloeden started doing photographs of his own in the early 1890s. It is even speculated that von Gloeden was taught the (then difficult) art of photography by Plüschow himself. However, von Gloeden soon eclipsed Plüschow, and later works by Plüschow were frequently erroneously attributed to von Gloeden.

Up until 1907, his assistant Vincenzo Galdi secretly made work which he tried to pass off as von Plüschow's own. However, Galdi's pictures lack elegance, often also feature females and generally tend to border on the pornographic.

Gallery

Major exhibitions

References

  1. ^ Date in Schickedanz 1987, p. 140; Pohlmann 1987, pp. 9 & 156; Pohlmann 1998, p. 93; Natter & Weiermair 2001, p. 107; Zannier 2008, p. 168.
  2. ^ Nostalgia and the Photography of Wilhelm von Gloeden by Jason Goldman in GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies 12.2 (2006) 237-258
  3. ^ [1]
  4. ^ Population of Taormina in 1881 Census 3218; in 1911 4832. Giuseppe Restifo: Tourism and the History of Taormina 1750-1950 (2001)
  5. ^ Facsimile of page in Pohlmann 1987, p. 42.
  6. ^ Restifo 2001 p. 166 n. 59 citing Pietro Nicolosi I baroni di Taormina (Palermo, 1959, pp. 32-48) & D. Papale: Taormina segreta. La belle Epoque 1876-1914 (Messina, 1995, p.58)
  7. ^ Restifo 2001, p. 126
  8. ^ See The von Gloeden Archive in the Fratelli Alinari Museum Collections by Monica Maffioli in the 2008 exhibition catalogue listed below.
  9. ^ Quoted in Pohlmann 1998, p. 14 from von Gloeden's article "Kunst in der Photographie" (Photographische Mitteilungen, No. 36 (1898), p. 4.
  10. ^ Pohlmann 1998, p. 16.
  11. ^ In 1894-5 the Sicilian nudes were advertised as "exquisite study material and a welcome addition to the teaching implements of the anatomist" Quoted in pohlmann 1998, p. 19 from the German periodical Die Kunst für Alle, No. 10, p. 47.
  12. ^ Pohlmann 1987, p. 61 n. 79.
  13. ^ The Times 8 Jan. 1909.
  14. ^ "Wilhelm von Gloeden: "... auch ich in Arkadien"" (in German). Stadt Memmingen. http://www.memmingen.de/586.html. Retrieved 2010-04-02.

Further reading

External links