Tourists in Venice could purchase souvenir photographs by the local studios of Carlo Ponti, Carlo Naya, and Giovanni Battista Brusa. These photographers concentrated on recording the city’s historic art and architecture and picturesque aquatic views. They generally preserved the city’s spell of quiescence, preferring gondolas over water taxis and empty piazzas over hordes of sightseers.
An exception is Giovanni Battista Brusa’s (act. 1860–80) photograph of the Hotel New York at the Palazzo Ferro, with its modern signboard partially visible at left. Located in a prime location on the Grand Canal opposite the Church of Santa Maria della Salute, the hotel and its neighboring palaces were among the busiest hotels in Europe during the Gilded Age. The Hotel New York’s modernized apartments catered to wealthy American tourists, particularly men of business. One writer found the establishment’s “air of matter-of-fact commercial acuteness” at odds with the city’s languid charm and with the spirit of the men who built the palace when art, not business, “was still religion.” The composition of the photograph mimics a two-dimensional elevation, taking a strictly frontal perspective of the Palazzo Ferro and the contiguous Palazzo Contarini-Fasan that provides a clear view of distinctive architectural details, including ogee-arched windows and traceried balconies. The photograph’s sense of architectural mapping likely interested its owner, the architect Russell Sturgis. The literary associations of the Palazzo Contarini-Fasan, which was believed to be the home of Desdemona from Shakespeare’s Othello, must have heightened the photograph’s appeal to learned travelers.
Giovanni Battista Brusa (Italian, active 1860–1880), Venezia—Ponte dei Sospiri e Rio Di Canonica; Venezia—Chiesa S. Marco—Facciata; Venezia—Canal Grande da S. Toma; Venice, Doge’s Palace, Scala dei Giganti; and Venezia—Piazza S. Marco, n.d.; and Carlo Naya (Italian, 1816–1882), Venezia Panorama, n.d. Hand-colored mounted albumen prints, bound in album, Naples / Venice, vol. 12. Russell Sturgis Photograph Collection, Kranzberg Art & Architecture Library, Washington University in St. Louis.
Carlo Ponti (Italian, b. Switzerland, c. 1823–1893), Venezia—Palazzo Ferro [Hotel New Yorck], n.d. Published by Giovanni Battista Brusa (Italian, active 1860–1880). Hand-colored mounted albumen print, bound in album, Naples / Venice, vol. 12. Russell Sturgis Photograph Collection, Kranzberg Art & Architecture Library, Washington University in St. Louis.