One of the Most Elegant and Sophisticated Italian Photographers
Massimo Listri is a photographer who never documents but rather invents beauty. These are the words Vittorio Sgarbi, the famed art critic and historian has used to define the Florentine artist, who is regarded as one of the most elegant and sophisticated Italian photographers. Presenting great architectural and cultural importance, the work of Massimo Listri offers a rare look into some of the world’s majestic interior spaces. The locations he photographs act as gateways into the secret interiors of palaces, ancient castles, villas, libraries, monasteries, hidden gardens, and numerous other architecturally grandiose works of art. His photographs are incredible explorations of beauty in the upmost majestic sense, and are tributes to culture, history and civilization. Whether it be the palaces of Rome and Tuscany, Versailles, or the grand libraries around the world, his images serve as visual documentaries of the history and beauty that surrounds us, revealing the very souls of such interiors through a fresh perspective that we wouldn’t otherwise be able to see.
The Early Years
Born in 1958 in Florence, Italy, Massimo Listri received his first camera at the age of seventeen, and began taking portraits of notable figures such as film director Pier Paolo Passolini, and writer Rene Clair. As his father was a journalist and a literary critic, he had access to various magazines and books on the arts and interiors from a young age, which trained his eye and developed his sophisticated taste. Listri studied Art and Letters in university, and his photographs of the interiors began being published in notable magazines such as FMR and Architectural Digest from early on.
In 1981, he in fact founded the magazine FMR along with one of the great publishers of its time, Franco Maria Ricci. FMR was a great platform for Listri to convey his vision and perspective of architectural and interior photography. On his introduction to the medium and his influences Listri says;
“I’m a self taught photographer, influenced by Piero Della Francesca’s and Vermeer’s rigor, and by the terse style of film directors such as Antonioni and Bergman, but the person crucial to my career in the beginning was publisher Franco Maria Ricci. FMR allowed me to engage in the kind of photography that I was interested in; large interiors, obsolete spaces, unknown museums and places.”
Since the beginning of his career, Listri has published more than 60 books and has taken photographs of more than 3,500 famous buildings across the globe.
A Great Balance of Order and Harmony
When looking at a Listri photograph, one immediately feels the silence of the empty grand interior. There is not a single person to be seen in his images, as Listri truly brings out the rich history and grandeur of the spaces with a hypnotic stand still and suspension of time. The uniqueness of his work comes from the fact that the interiors appear vivid, with incredible extension of depth of field to its furthest limits through its large scale nature. His photographs offer a great balance of order and harmony, with a precise selection of the locations and a formal composition of the photograph by the artist. His images often present a point of view that is central, creating a geometry and equilibrium within the composition through the symmetry enabled by the careful placement of his tripod. Thus, the viewer is able to look into the interior from a central vantage point as if the person was occupying space within the room. His pin-point sharp compositions combined with an ethereal use of natural light acts as crucial elements all drawn from the masters of painting. On his approach Listri further explains saying;
“It is purely a question of sensibility. The secret is in the light which highlights the details. That’s why I definitely prefer to use natural light when possible.[…] My photography is an expression of tranquility and silence in this chaotic society, a sense of perspective and equilibrium. This is therapy for the soul. Every time I take a photo is like the first time a treasure is revealed, a first emotion, be it an empty room or the greatest treasures of Vatican.”
With an extraordinary ability to capture the smallest details within interiors, each photograph of Listri becomes a treasure in itself, delicate portraits of the most beautiful interiors across the globe.
One of the best examples that reflects the height of Massimo Listri’s sophistication and taste is his photographed titled Fortuny, Venezia. The photograph presents the Winter Garden located in Museo Fortuny in Venice, previously known as Palazzo Pesaro degli Orfei. The site is a gothic Venetian style palace that was once home to Mariano Fortuny and his wife Henriette Nigrin, and was a focal point for intellectuals in early 20th century. Mariano Fortuny himself dedicated his life to various artistic practices, ranging from painting, engraving, sculpture and fabric printing and design. The palace where he worked and lived in became a must-visit salon for the international and local elite soon after it was restored, and has since become what is known today, Museo Fortuny.
The Winter Garden
The Winter Garden is located on the first floor, facing the opposite side of Fortuny’s Atelier. Fortuny himself created a special frame for the indoor garden project, which was glued onto the painted hem cloths and fixe to the walls. The vibrant frescoes seen in the photograph cover three sides of the room, and present a stunning layering of colors, which give the space its elegant luminosity. Listri’s image of the winter garden in fact reveals how much he and Mariano Fortuny have in common; they are both great sceneographers as one, Fortuny, has literally created the interior, and it is through the lens and perspective of Listri that we are able witness such great beauty.
True Reflection and Revelation
With references to great Renaissance painters, the work of Massimo Listri is a true reflection and revelation of the beautiful spaces that surround us around the world. His large scale architectural and interior photography showcase the most elegant rooms, hidden locations and seldom seen spaces with their treasures and history. Listri’s photographs have not only graced the pages of numerous magazines and books within the past decades, but have also been exhibited in major institutions including; Palazzo Reale, Milan (2008), Palazzo Pitti (Florence 2009), The Contemporary Art Museum of Prato (2009), The Morgan Library and Museum (New York 2010), The Italian Institute of Culture in Tokyo (2012), The Museum of Modern Art of Bogota (2012), The Museum of Modern Art of Buenos Aires (2012), Benaki Museum in Athens (2014), Vatican Museum in Rome (2014), and Kunsthistorisches Museum in Wien (2015). Massimo Listri continues to reside and work in Florence.