art with tosca

On Thursday March 30th 2023, I was invited to attend the inauguration of the photographic exhibition taking place at the Italian Cultural Institute in Washington D.C. (within the Embassy of Italy). It was a great opportunity to see the large prints by one of my favorite world-famous photographers, Massimo Listri.

Tosca Ruggieri and Massimo Listri in front of Palazzo Reale I, Venezia (2022)

Listri started his photographic work at a very young age. Throughout his career, Massimo Listri documented both public and private villas, palaces, churches, museums and libraries. His photographs have been published in more than 80 books edited by the most prestigious European and American publishers, including Taschen, Rizzoli New York, Magnus, Konemann and Treccani. Since 1981, Listri’s work has focused on photographing ancient and modern architecture, elegant or abandoned places, intimate environments as well as boundless spaces.

Palazzo Martelli, Firenze, 2008 © Massimo Listri

There is something utterly captivating about Listri’s images and it may have to do with his modus operandi. Listri captures the geometric purity of a room with perfect symmetry and rigid perspective. In his own words ‘Volume, space and light are the three ingredients that form what we usually call atmosphere. That is the life breath of a place’.

Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana I, Città del Vaticano, 2015
© Massimo Listri


A parallel can be drawn between Listri as an avid collector of classical antiquities and works of art for his personal collection and the large collection of places he visited and documented through his ‘portraits of spaces’. There is one significant difference though, when looking at images of the different rooms of his house in Florence we see crowded spaces, filled with books and antiquities. This seems to be a clear contrast with the artist’s obsession to photograph totally empty spaces.

Massimo Listri Foundation, Florence
© Massimo Listri

The 16 prints presented at the Italian Cultural Institute show original portraits of interiors and perspectives of Italian palaces, museums and other extraordinary locations in Sicily. Massimo Listri has a distinct and unique way of capturing these places. The picture of Palazzo Butera in Palermo (Sicily) or the one of Palazzo Reale in Venice captivate the public with their eternal beauty.

Palazzo Butera II, Palermo, 2016
© Massimo Listri

As part of this exhibit, I was also delighted to see a large print of one of my favorite Venetian interiors, the Winter Garden of the Mariano Fortuny y Madrazo home museum.

Fortuny, Venezia, 2022
© Massimo Listri

For those of you following Art With Tosca’s online lectures, you might already be familiar with Listri’s work as he photographed some of the cabinets of curiosities and Wunderkammer that I referenced in my lecture on the subject this past year. These were published in a wonderful book edited by Taschen in 2020. You can enroll for a recording of the lecture here. I asked Listri which cabinet of curiosities was his favorite from the series and he told me an interesting story. Massimo Listri visited the Benedictine Abbey of Seitenstetten in Lower Austria in 1994 with the intention of photographing the impressive library. He asked the monk in charge if there were other rooms in the monastery worth looking at and documenting through his lens. The monk seemed apprehensive and hesitant at first but took a key attached to his robe and showed him the most incredible mineral cabinet which Listri proceeded to capture.

Exceptional cowrie shells (Cypraea).
Stift Seitenstetten, Das Mineralienkabinett
© Massimo Listri
Stift Seitenstetten, Das Mineralienkabinett
© Massimo Listri

Published on Friday, March 31st, 2023

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