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Georg Sommer was born in Frankfurt am Main September 2, 1834. He was interested in photography very young, and in 1853 devoted himself to becoming a professional after completing an apprenticeship at the firm of photographic technique Andreas & Sons in Frankfurt [Miraglia 1996].
In 1857 he arrived in Rome where he worked in partnership with compatriot and friend, also a photographer, Edmond Behles (Stuttgart 1841-1921). Even through the Deutscher Kunstlerverein, he participated in the atmosphere of passionate interest in antiquity and archaeological studies and met other photographers of German origin residing or working in Rome, including William Oswald Ufer, Michael Mang, Alfred Noack and many painters. At the same time there were working in Rome talented photographers such as Robert Macpherson, James Anderson, Angelo Luswergh and his son Giacomo, the brothers Antonio and Paolo Francesco D'Alessandri, Michele Mang, Gioacchino Altobelli and Pompeo Molins.
In Rome, Sommer worked for a short period in September and October 1857 and then again in summer 1859. He adopted the formats large (28x38), medium (20x25), stereoscopic and carte-de-visite. He took photographs of many works of art in the Vatican Museums. Possibly he had contacts with the archaeologist John Henry Parker, who was using several photographers to document his research.
By the end of 1857 he went from Rome to Naples, then still ruled by Ferdinand II of Bourbon, and openned a studio at 168 Via di Chiaia and then, in about 1860, at 4 Via Monte di Dio, with stock at 5 Via Santa Caterina and at 8 Via Monte di Dio. He started selling with his name the pictures taken in Rome in collaboration with Behles; at the same time, in Rome, Behles, who had atelier at 28 Via Mario de' Fiori (stores at 346/347 Via del Corso, then at 196 and later at 91 Via Condotti), was selling with his name photographs taken by Sommer in Naples. In the numerous editions of the stereoscopic photographs the same subject is ascribed to the two together or to Behles alone or to Sommer alone. The photographic studio offered Neapolitan portraits, reproductions of art works and views. Sommer also traded artistic bronzes listed in special catalogues or in a section of his photographic catalogues.
In 1860, on behalf of the government, he carried out a photographic campaign in Pompeii and on 25 September of that year he photographed Garibaldi visiting the ruins.
The June 16, 1861 he married Antonia Schmid, daughter of a famous piano maker of Moravian origin. The couple had two children: Edmondo (named in honor of the friend Behles) born in 1864, and Carolina.
In 1861 Sommer photographed the places of the battle of Gaeta and the destructions caused by Savoy troops in the siege of the Bourbon fortress.
On behalf of the Italian government he documented the repression of brigandage in the southern provinces.
In 1865, Sommer and Behles were rewarded by Vittorio Emanuele II with a gold medal. In the same year they participated in the International Exhibition of Arts and Manufactures in Dublin, section XXX, where they exhibited 10 photographs.
Sommer got a gold medal by Charles of Wurttemberg in 1866 or so. On the cover of his catalogues Sommer continued to include the two medals awarded by Vittorio Emanuele II and Charles of Wurttemberg until 1903.
In early 1866 Sommer broke his association with Behles. The independent activity of Behles is documented in Rome until 1878.
In 1867 Sommer participated in the Universal Exposition in Paris where he won a bronze medal.
In 1868 he moved studio and workshop at 8 Via Monte di Dio while continuing to live at number 4 on the same street.
In 1870 he published the catalogue Giorgio Sommer, Catalogo di fotografie d'Italia, A. Ferrante, Napoli.
In 1873 he participated in the Universal Exposition of Vienna; he published the Catalogo di fotografie d'Italia e Malta. Giorgio Sommer - Casa fondata nel 1857.
In 1872 he bought property in Piazza Vittoria, corner of Via della Vittoria, in the new district of Chiaia, where between 1873 and 1874 he moved with his family and opened a new studio and shop. The photographic firm came to employ twelve people in the different sections of development of negatives, printing, retouching and color. A description of the studio of Sommer was published by Edward L. Wilson in "Philadelphia Photographer" in the September of 1874.
In 1874 he presented to Margherita di Savoia a precious album of his views of Italy, now preserved in the Biblioteca Reale in Turin.
Around 1870 he ceased to take views in stereoscopic and carte-de-visite formats, even if continued long to edit and trade the images made earlier. From 1891 the carte de visite format is no longer listed in the Sommer's catalogues.
In the eighties he operated in Switzerland being committed for a photographic campaign concerning the new railways.
In around 1882 he published the catalog Casa fondata nell'anno 1857, Giorgio Sommer/ Fotografo di S. M. il Re d'Italia, Largo Vittoria, Napoli, Palazzo proprio. Catalogo di fotografie d'Italia e/ Malta. (n.d.)
He edited several albums of views of Italy or of Italian cities (24 or 48 vues carte de visite; 12, 24 or 48 cabinet; 24 or 50 medium format).
In 1885 he obtained a prize at the Nuremberg's exhibition, for reproductions of ancient bronzes.
In 1886 he published the catalogue Catalogo di fotografie d'Italia, Malta e Ferrovie del Gottardo.
On 21 January 1889, when his son Edmund had already nine years of experience in his father business, it was registered the trading company 'Ditta Giorgio Sommer e Figlio'.
In 1899 Sommer published the catalogue Catalogo di fotografie della Svizzera e del Tirolo.
In 1890 he opened a branch in Palermo.
In 1900 he published the catalogue Catalogo di fotografie d'Italia, Malta & Tunisia. In the end the catalogue of the company listed over 19000 items.
Sommer died in Naples, August 7, 1914.
In the catalogue of 1914, Catalogue illustré‚ des Bronzes et des Marbres de la Fonderie Artistique en Bronze, reproductions are offered in either a marble or plaster or bronze or silver with a choice of three colors of patina.
In 1916 at the Civil Court of Naples held the cause for the liquidation of the Sommer Company; an auction was held in 1931.
Giorgio Sommer is a major photographer in the history of the period of the collodion photography in Italy. Sommer worked in all formats: large, medium, stereoscopic, cabinet and carte de visite, and was skilled in portraits, views and reproduction of works of art. He was one of the first photographers in Italy to reserve a section of his catalogues with photographs of costumes, which include isolated figures in the studio shots (street vendors, artisans, the carrier, etc.), genre scenes (the scribe, the thief, the beggar, etc.), street scenes, and photo montages (very famous one is the tarantella). In the nineties he took instantaneous photographs of street's scenes.
It is worth noting that Sommer, unlike others among the first commercial photografic firms operating in Italy, including the Alinari brothers, gave importance to the production and diffusion of even small formats: stereoscopic, cabinet and carte-de-visite.
The studios of Sommer and Robert Rive are the first photographic studios in the early sixties of the nineteenth century to have pursued the objective of covering with their photographic campaigns the most important - according to a criterion of turistic interest - places of the territory of the new nation, reflecting the myth of the 'beautiful Italy' and at the same time bringing to it distinctive contributions, different and at the same time to some extent complementary. The Sommer's catalogues include views of Italy - Bologna, Florence, Fiesole, Genoa, Lago di Como, Lago di Lugano, Lago Maggiore, Metaponto, Milan, Naples, Naples's surroundings (Vesuvius, Herculaneum, Pompeii, Baja, Caserta, Sorrento, Maddaloni, Ischia, Capri, Amalfi, Ravello, Cava dei Tirreni, Paestum, works of art from the museum in Naples), Orvieto, Pavia Charterhouse, Pegli, Pisa, Rome and Castelli Romani, Tivoli, works of art in the Vatican museum, Siena, Terni, Turin, Venice, Verona, Sicily (Calascibetta, Castrogiovanni, Catania, Agrigento, Messina, Palermo, Montreal, Scylla, Selinunte, Segesta, Syracuse, Solunto, Taormina, Trapani), Malta, the Gotthard Railway and of Tunis.
Sommer tends constantly to go beyond the academic conventions of composition. He excels in ability to capture the 'genius loci', the most intimate identity and the aura of the places, often in some uncharted recesses; he knows how to combine visual and emotional sensitivity with a measure of composition which though largely intuitive is no less rigorous and sometimes include elements of Cartesian geometry.