Art Photography: Rome by Robert Macpherson
The Monuments of Rome by Robert Turnbull Macpherson (1814-1872)
The Scottish painter Robert Macpherson was born in Dalkeith and settled in Rome, partly for health reasons, in the 1830s. From 1851 he began to use the new medium of photography to record Rome's treasures and antquities. Macpherson saw his photographs as an extension of his work as an artist-photographer. In 1863 he said: "I remain a photographer to this day, without any feeling that by doing so I have abandoned art, or have in any way forfeited my claim to the title of artist."
By the 1860s his reputation was high with exhibitions of his work in Edinburgh and London. His images drew on his experience as a painter, choosing advantageous viewpoints to convey the aesthetic strength and complexity of the architecture on which he based his work. His wife, Louisa Gerardine, played an important role in both supporting the practical work of Macpherson's photography and in promoting his work to visiting tourists and the resident British community.
His work received critical acclaim with the Atheneum journal declaring in 1862 that they were "subjects chosen with fine taste and the pictures executed with skill and delicacy." He became the first photographer to be permitted within the Vatican and photographed many of the sculptural treasures there.
By the later 1860s his health was in decline due to malaria and the market for his images began to disappear as political instability reduced the tourist trade. Photography was also moving from the realm of the artist into that of a commodity.
He died in 1872 with his obituary in The Scotsman stating that he was "the father of photography in the Eternal City".
Page last updated: 6 August 2018