Guild houses of Grand Place in Brussels at the summer of 1889 by Giorgio Sommer

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600 dpi scanned printable image from original 22 x 16 cm. size woodburytype photograph on 32,3 x 24,8 size cardboard, PDF file.

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Giorgio Sommer (1834–1914) was born in Frankfurt am Main (in modern-day Germany), and became one of Europe’s most important and prolific photographers of the 19th century. Active from 1857 to 1888, he produced thousands of images of archeological ruins, landscapes, art objects and portraits.

After studying business in Frankfurt, Sommer opened his first photography studio in Switzerland, where he made relief images of mountains for the Swiss government. In 1856 moved his business to Naples and later (1866) formed a partnership with fellow German photographer Edmund Behles (also known as Edmondo Behles) who owned a studio in Rome. Operating from their respective Naples and Rome studios, Sommer and Behles became one of the largest and most prolific photography concerns in Italy.

Sommer’s catalog included images from the Vatican Museum, the National Archeological Museum at Naples, the Roman ruins at Pompeii, as well as street and architectural scenes of Naples, Florence, Rome, Capri and Sicily. Most notably, Sommer published his comprehensive album Dintorni di Napoli which contained over one hundred images of everyday scenes in Naples. In April 1872, he documented a very large eruption of Mount Vesuvius in a series of stunning photographs.

Sommer and Behles exhibited extensively and earned numerous honors and prizes for their work (London 1862, Paris 1867, Vienna 1873, Nuremberg 1885). At one time, Sommer was appointed official photographer to King Victor Emmanuel II of Italy.

Sommer was involved in every aspect of the photography business. He published his own images that he sold in his studios and to customers across Europe. In later years, he photographed custom images for book illustrations, as well as printing his own albums and postcards. Sommer worked in all the popular formats of his day: carte de visite, stereoview, and large albumen prints (approximately 8×10) which were sold individually and in bound albums.

The partnership with Behles ended in 1874, after which each photographer continued his own business. In Naples, Sommer opened a total of four additional studios: at No. 4 and No. 8 Monte di Dio, No. 5 Magazzino S. Caterina, and a last at Piazza della Vittoria.

Sommer died in Naples in 1914.

The Grand Place (French, pronounced [ɡʁɑ̃ plas]; also used in English) or Grote Markt (Dutch, pronounced [ˌɣroːtə ˈmɑrkt] (About this sound listen)) is the central square of Brussels. It is surrounded by opulent guildhalls and two larger edifices, the city’s Town Hall, and the Breadhouse (French: Maison du Roi, Dutch: Broodhuis) building containing the Museum of the City of Brussels. The square is the most important tourist destination and most memorable landmark in Brussels. The building measures 68 by 110 metres (223 by 361 ft), and it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Rise in importance
Improvements to the Grand Place from the 14th century onwards would mark the rise in importance of local merchants and tradesmen relative to the nobility. Short on money, the Duke transferred control of mills and commerce to the local authorities. The city of Brussels, as with the neighbouring cities of Mechelen and Leuven constructed a large indoor cloth market to the south of the square. At this point, the square was still haphazardly laid out, and the buildings along the edges had a motley tangle of gardens and irregular additions. The city expropriated and demolished a number of buildings that clogged the Grand Place, and formally defined the edges of the square.

The Brussels City Hall was built on the south side of the square in stages between 1401 and 1455, and made the Grand Place the seat of municipal power. It towers 96 metres (315 ft) high, and is capped by a 4-metre (12 ft) statue of Saint Michael slaying a demon or devil. To counter this symbol of municipal power, from 1504 to 1536 the Duke of Brabant built a large building across from the city hall as symbol of ducal power. It was built on the site of the first cloth and bread markets, which were no longer in use, and it became known as the King’s House (Middle Dutch: ‘s Conincxhuys), although no king has ever lived there. It is currently known as the Maison du roi (King’s House) in French, though in Dutch it continues to be called the Broodhuis (Breadhouse), after the market whose place it took. Wealthy merchants and the increasingly powerful guilds of Brussels built houses around the edge of the square.

Destruction and rebuilding
On August 13, 1695, a 70,000-strong French army under Marshal François de Neufville, duc de Villeroy, began a bombardment of Brussels in an effort to draw the League of Augsburg’s forces away from their siege on French-held Namur in what is now southern Belgium. The French launched a massive bombardment of the mostly defenseless city centre with cannons and mortars, setting it on fire and flattening the majority of the Grand Place and the surrounding city. Only the stone shell of the town hall and a few fragments of other buildings remained standing. That the town hall survived at all is ironic, as it was the principal target of the artillery fire.

The square was rebuilt in the following four years by the city’s guilds. Their efforts were regulated by the city councillors and the Governor of Brussels, who required that their plans be submitted to the authorities for their approval. This helped to deliver a remarkably harmonious layout for the rebuilt Grand Place, despite the ostensibly clashing combination of Gothic, Baroque and Louis XIV styles.

In the late 18th century, Brabant Revolutionaries sacked the Grand Place, destroying statues of nobility and symbols of Christianity. The guildhalls were seized by the state and sold. The buildings were neglected and left in poor condition, with their façades painted, stuccoed and damaged by pollution. In the late 19th century, mayor Charles Buls had the Grand Place returned to its former splendour, with buildings being reconstructed or restored.

Sources: Wikipedia

Detail of our high resolution scanned image.

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