The photographic library attached to the Pinacoteca di Brera was founded by Corrado Ricci, Camillo Boito, Giuseppe Fumagalli and Gaetano Moretti in 1899 to offer the museum a collection of artistic reproductions of works of art and monuments both in Italy and abroad as a state-of-the-art tool for study and consultation, to cater for the gallery’s scientific and research needs. The models peopling the imagination of those illustrious men and of their colleagues in charge of Italy’s art institutions in those days were the great museums of Europe and the United States, which had recently acquired such libraries. The original core of the collection was donated by collectors and scholars from all over Italy to whom the founders had launched a public appeal through the press.
The library thus attracted a considerable number of collections of photographic prints by leading amateur photographers known to scholars but other examples of whose work have not been found outside Brera, together with the surviving photographic documentation of the “Circolo Fotografico Lombardo”, the first and most important such institution in Lombardy. The Brera collection includes photographs taken using a broad variety of techniques such as salted paper, aristotypes, cyanotypes, carbon prints and albumen prints, with numerous works by such illustrious vedutisti as Alinari, Brogi, Noack, Naya, Sommer, and Anderson, and by other interesting professional masters of photography ranging from Unterveger of Trento to Incorpora of Palermo, in addition to prints of major international and historical importance by Nadar, Sacchi Frith, Bonfils, Sadic Bey and others.
The photographic library has grown over the years with both old and new documentary material generated by the Soprintendenza’s activity, by the acquisition of photographic collections and through exchange with other institutions. Its growth, however, has also gone hand in hand with an unflagging effort to maintain the library’s existing collection, almost all of which has now been restored, furnished with an inventory and conservation factsheet and stored in a protective environment using public funding.