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Pasquale De Antonis' Vision of Italian Fashion

An exhibition in Rome celebrates one of the greatest Italian fashion photographers of the 20th century.

Rome, 1946. After the Second World War the Italian capital was slowly coming back to life. Photographer Pasquale De Antonis had just been introduced to the world of fashion and had started doing photo shoots for a few Italian magazines. Born in Teramo in 1908, De Antonis first moved with his family to Pescara, where he opened his first studio and where he met writer Ennio Flaiano and painter Tommaso Cascella. Together with Cascella, De Antonis toured the Abruzzo region taking beautiful neorealist pictures of local villages and traditional celebrations that allowed him to be admitted at the Centro Sperimentale di Cinematografia (Centre for Experimental Cinema) in Rome where he moved in the mid-‘30s and where he later on took over the studio that originally belonged to Futurist photographer Arturo Bragaglia. The cluttered studio located in one of the buildings flanking the Column of the Immaculate Conception in Piazza di Spagna, soon became a sort of meeting space for artists, writers, painters, directors and show-business people who often hung around the Caffè Greco in Via Condotti. De Antonis lived the most important period of his life in the aftermath of the war: he became a stage and set photographer for directors such as Luchino Visconti, Giorgio Strehler and Franco Zeffirelli and took beautiful portraits of iconic actors and actresses.

When sophisticated and witty fashion journalist Irene Brin opened with her husband Gaspero del Corso the art gallery L’Obelisco (The Obelisk), De Antonis started frequenting it. The Obelisk became Rome’s cultural hub: many artists often met here, but the gallery also turned into the set for many fashion photo shoots taken by De Antonis. From the late ‘40s on, many articles penned by Irene Brin and published on Italian fashion magazine Bellezza were accompanied by De Antonis’ photographs. The collaboration between Brin and De Antonis became of vital importance for Italian fashion: models were often photographed at The Obelisk Gallery, among paintings and sculptures, or in the Roman streets and parks, among the ruins or inside museums. It was De Antonis’ idea to dress up in a white fox fur coat by Balzani Antonio Canova’s statue of Paolina Bonaparte at the Borghese Museum and Gallery, an image that turned into an iconic and surrealist vision of art and fashion.

In De Antonis’ pictures, outfits, accessories and the models who wore them were compared to paintings, drawings and sculptures as it happened with Ivy Nicholson, portrayed in Gattinoni’s dresses at the Villa Giulia National Etruscan Museum, the delicate features of the statues behind her looking remarkably similar to the model’s features. Creating a blend of art, fashion, cinema, theatre and architectural design De Antonis’ photographs were the perfect synthesis between the glamorous excesses of fashion and Italian neorealism.