Robert Macpherson

1811 - 1872

Early Photographic Albums

An albumen print by Robert Macpherson ©

Thank you to Douglas Olcott, Berkeley, California, for sending me details of Macpherson’s photography.  Douglas describes his comments below as “basically just an introduction”.

He is keen to share his knowledge with others who have an interest in Macpherson.  Please email me if you would like to be included in this discussion.

Macpherson’s Sculptures of the Capitol

 Douglas Olcott writes:

"I have had in my possession for several years - and have been studying for almost as long - a two volume collection of 287 Macpherson's albumen prints entitled "Macpherson's Sculptures of the Capitol" (meaning the Capitoline Museum).

The contents of the two volumes match exactly the price list or broadsheet dated December 1871, which I found with them.  Each volume is stamped on the cover with the same representation of a wolf suckling Romulus and Remus, from a woodcut which may have been made by Macpherson's wife who is known to have illustrated his volumes with woodcuts; this is an obvious reference to the Bronze Wolf in the Capitoline." I can see Italian newspaper in the binding itself. The dimensions of the photos are approx. 19 x 13 cm.

I actually have documentary evidence for when the volumes or the mounts containing the photographs were purchased in Rome. An American schoolteacher purchased them in Rome in 1878, while on a sabbatical tour of Europe and the Near East funded by a trustee of the school. (There are another 600 photographs which survive, by various photographers, of the collection which this man made during his travels, which I am trying to republish, either in book or digital form, and make available for exhibition, but Macpherson is my favorite.)

Alistair Crawford makes reference to this collection in an article, "Robert Macpherson 1814-72: The Foremost Photographer of Rome", in Papers of the British School at Rome v. 67 (1999) but it is not clear if he has actually seen the collection. I am seeking to find out if another copy of this collection still exists. ( Incidentally, Alistair has done extensive research  on the exact dates of Macpherson's life and family connections.)

Macpherson’s Vatican Sculptures

Douglas Olcott writes:

"I also have a price list for the volume of "Macpherson's Vatican Sculptures” that was discovered in Montreal in 2003.  The price list describes the Capitoline collection as a companion to the Vatican collection.

The Getty Museum in Southern California has a volume of Macpherson's photos of the Vatican Sculptures which I have seen. The mounting of the photos and the binding are especially fine.  This is the edition published in London in 1863 by Chapman & Hall.  It would be interesting to compare it with this recently found volume in Montreal.

What is known of the volume which was discovered in Montreal in 2003?   It was referred to on the EdinPhoto web site as being featured on a Canadian web site, but unfortunately this Canadian web site seems to be no longer active."

Other Macpherson Collections

Douglas Olcott writes:

"Macpherson died in November, 1872, according to an article by Marjorie Munsterberg in The Art Bulletin, March 1986.   He apparently made no provision for the continuation of his studio in Rome, so it seems other studios or perhaps book sellers in Rome were selling his work by this time, but certainly he chose himself the photos which were in these collections.  I have the following price lists which indicate other collections which he published in book form:

-   Macpherson's Vatican Sculptures, 1st March 1868, 134 in all.

-   Macpherson's Photographs, December 1871, 420 in all.

-   Macpherson's Photographs of Celebrated Pictures Mostly Taken from the Best Engravings, 135 in all.

The Boston MFA has a collection of his photos published as Roman Architecture and Sculpture, 1871, containing 42 albumen prints.

We all know about his flamboyant nature and view of himself as a true artist. He was obviously also very practical, like a true Scotsman, in publishing his work in book form for the tourists."

Macpherson’s Vatican Sculptures

Douglas Olcott writes:

"Piero Becchetti's and Carlo Pietrangeli's book on Robert Macpherson 'Uninglese fotografo a Roma' was published by Quasar Editions in Rome, 1987'   It includes:

-  reproductions of the price lists listed above.

a large number of reproductions of Macpherson's photos , mainly of architecture and views, but also of five sculptural objects from the Vatican Museum.

However, the book does not include any  reproductions of Macpherson's photos of sculpture in the Capitoline Museum, so I am still uncertain  whether or not another copy of Macpherson's collection of photos from the Capitoline exists.

Douglas Olcott is currently a GIS software engineer.  He was once a lecturer in classical art and archaeology.


Robert MacPherson


Early Photographic Albums

Albumen Print