Tomaso Filippi Archive

The donation to I.R.E. that is one of the most important cultural legacies of the twentieth century.

Tomaso Filippi, was born in Venice in 1852.

He began his career in 1870 working in the famous studio of Carlo Naya, a photographer originally from Piedmont who chose to establish his business in Venice. Over a short period of time, Filippi took on an important role, and twelve years later, when Naya died, he became director of the studio.

From the outset Filippi showed great technical skills and refined artistic taste, talents that came from his knowledge of printing and from his painting studies at the Venice Academy of Fine Arts.

In 1895 he opened his first shop in St Mark’s Square, under the Procuratie Nuove.

His studio specialised in different ambits: on the one hand, he continued his work as a di piazza photographer providing professional photos for the many tourists who wished to have their own personal Grand Tour album; on the other, he also explored documentary photography producing local news reports and photographic campaigns on Venice’s museum heritage and contemporary art.

An example of this vein of work are the photos he took when St Mark’s campanile collapsed on 14 July 1902. In those years Filippi began a long-term cooperation with the Civici Musei and the Regie Gallerie, also becoming the official photographer for the Biennale (or the Esposizione Internazionale d’Arte) since its very first edition.

Filippi was close to the artistic circles of the time and collaborated with many painters during the Biennale exhibitions, providing documentation of their artworks and displays. He also offered a rich repertoire of “assembled” genre scenes – tableaux-vivants compositions with men, women, and children immortalised in the most diverse poses with a range of hairstyles – that painters could use as models for their works on canvas.

Filippi also produced industrial photographs and – somewhat ahead of his time – took on photojournalism, as documented by thousands of small-size albumen prints of street scenes describing the poor and everyday life conditions in Venice, Chioggia, Pellestrina, Sottomarina, and the islands of the Venetian lagoon.

In 1915 he was commissioned a photographic survey on the measures being taken to secure and safeguard Venice’s artistic heritage when it was clear that war was inevitable: on 24 October, Filippi was one of the first to arrive after Austrian bombs fell on the church of the Scalzi, which suffered devastating damage: Filippi’s photos show the precious 250-square-metre ceiling frescoed by Giovan Battista Tiepolo reduced to debris.

After his death, Filippi’s business continued for a year before being closed down, and his entire photographic archive was kept and safeguarded in the house of his three daughters, who never married.

In 1981, Filippi’s last surviving daughter Elvira left all her belongings, including her father’s archive, to the I.R.E. rest home where she lived the last years of her life.

This donation was one of I.R.E.’s most important cultural bequests of the twentieth century.