New York

“Photographers in 19th century Italy”

Robert Schoelkopf Gallery

Three gondolas with nine Americans in each, their bleached-out eyes retouched with tiny black dots for pupils, the tableau spliced onto a backdrop of the Ducal Palace so that the gondoliers’ heads are ghostlike, is offered by Paolo Salviati, Photographer, and entitled Venezia in gold letters on a black border. A nude is seen six times over, one time with her left index finger curled against a plump cheek like Ingres’ Countess d’Haussonville, another time covering herself daintily like a Venus Surprised. Then there are market scenes, crowds at St. Peter’s, and Monuments, Monuments: the Bronze Horses, the Colosseum, the sturdy Arch of Titus with little clumps of shrubbery thrusting out from the cornice. Sometimes, an interesting and incongruous effect: Francis Frith would like his view of Florence to magnify the Cathedral, I suppose, but, instead, his finicky lens pulls our eyes across slanted roofs, open shutters, bushes in gardens, sheets drawn over open doors against the heat.

There’s Art History, too: a sepia print of the bronze doors of the Florence Baptistery which may needle recollections of crisp voices and gestures in dimmed art-history rooms. But put it on a lectern and take out a magnifying glass, and this print by the Alinari brothers will still let you discover the owls and fruit on the outer door post.

The most effective work in the show may be the view of a winding road sliced by a long, dark shadow, with a crumbled aqueduct far off, and, nearby, a wooden fence lighted so that it looks like three white threads. The rest of the exhibition is unremarkable, except for a tiny “photo-glyph” by Fox Talbot of a ruined amphitheater in Naples with four gentlemen in suits—English suits, I would think.

—José Matos