Double Vision: Early Photograph of SS. Annunziata, Messina

Annunziata Messina 1860 Sevaistre

This stereoscopic albumen print of the Piazza dell’Annunziata, Messina, by the French-Italian photographer Eugène Sevraistre dates to c. 1860, and is thus probably the earliest known photograph of Guarini’s façade of the Santissima Annunziata in the Sicilian city. The Theatine church was consecrated exactly two hundred years before the photograph was taken, and destroyed in the devastating Messina earthquake of December 1908.

The photograph gives valuable information about the urban context of the church, complementing other surviving images of it. Interestingly, the photograph underscores the apparently axial relationship of the church portal to Andrea Calamech’s 1572 statue of Don Giovanni d’Austria, the victor of the naval battle against the Ottoman Empire at Lepanto in 1571. Don Giovanni, an illegitimate son of Emperor Charles V, had led his fleet to victory starting from the Messina harbor. It would be nice to know when the statue was placed at this location; later images appear to show the statue farther away from the church. Were the Theatines making an intentional political statement in aligning their church with it, trying to link themselves to the Habsburg dynasty and the conqueror of the “infidels”?

Eugène Sevaistre, Piazza Catalani già piazza dell’Annunciata – Monumento a Don Giovanni d’Austria, Messina, c. 1860, with lower story of Guarino Guarini’s Santissima Annunziata façade.
Photograph: LombardiaBeniCulturali