Completed Continental European after 1800, Sculpture 25 What more can be found out about the Neapolitan foundry 'Fonderia Sommer’?

Topic: Artist

Thomas, the sculptor here, lived and worked in the Naples area, and especially on Capri, from 1889 to 1906. Given this example is at latest 1894 it was apparently both made and cast there by 'Fonderia Sommer', which was established in Naples in 1885 by the German-born Giorgio Sommer (1834–1914). He went to Italy in 1857 and settled in Naples for the rest of his life where he ran, above all, a very successful business as a photographer, especially of classical sites, antiquities etc.

That is why he is best known. Neither his Wiki entry nor anything else found by quick search, except the National Trust link below, say anything about his by-line running a Neapolitan foundry, although many examples of the generally small bronze casts 'after the antique' that it turned out are still in circulation.

'Giorgio Sommer & Son' in the National Trust link implies some continuation but his photo business, if not the whole operation, appears to have ended in 1916, two years after his death.

Can anything be added about the foundry history, when that ended (if not 1916), and especially if it turned out more full-scale work like this statue of Burke?

Pieter van der Merwe, Maritime Subjects, Entry reviewed by Art UK

Completed, Outcome

This discussion is now closed. The aim was to find more information about Giorgio Sommer’s Neapolitan foundry. The outcome is a biography of Sommer and an account of the sitter, Edmund Burke (the latter for now only available by request to Art Detective), which includes details from press reports that clarify the origins of the commission.

Thank you to everyone who contributed to the discussion. To anyone viewing this discussion for the first time, please see below for all the comments that led to this conclusion.


Michael Hurman,

if you follow this link to Pompei in pictures click on Pompeii menu just under the title then click miscellany and scroll down to Bronze Foundries there is a wealth of additional information.

In my view Giorgio was not the founder as such it was an adjunct to his photographic business and with his son Eduardo the business was successful. A foundry needs a great deal of expertise from the founder his knowledge of the lost wax process to the chiseleur ( finisher) to the patineur all specialist skills. The atelier or workshop would need the skills of Giorgio and his photography, his contacts, his reputation to advertise and draw in the clientele. His catalogues show that Giorgio's expertise was clearly in this field. So I believe that it was his name and his photography business success that enabled him to add on a bronze souvenir business of high quality and from that to be given other larger foundry commissions by artists. Yes he could clearly have his name on his bronze products as the founder, it was his business. I just think that he left the expertise that was required to other skilled workers. Unlike Henry Young of Young & co (1871- 1899) in London who had his name as founder, was actually a founder.

Michael Hurman,

Regarding the question of work after 1916 perhaps the earthquake of 1915 had a damaging effect on the business causing the eventual demise. Couple that with the 1st world war it would have been a tough environment to survive.

Kieran Owens,

The German Wikipedia page for "Giorgio Sommer" reads, in rough translation, as follows:

Giorgio Sommer (Frankfurt am Main, 2nd September 1834 – Naples, 7th August 1914) was a German photographer who worked mainly in Italy. He was also successful as a producer of replicas of antique works of art. Sommer, who came from Frankfurt am Main, completed a commercial apprenticeship before switching to photography. In 1856/57 he went to Rome, a year later to Naples, where he opened his own photo studio in 1857.

Giorgio Sommer became extremely successful as a photographer and publisher. He wrote contemporary history with numerous authentic photographs of catastrophes and volcanic eruptions.

From the 1870s he also produced replicas of antique works of art in bronze and terracotta (later also in marble). The replicas, in reduced statuette format and in original size, were widely distributed, not least thanks to their high cast quality, and were also offered through the illustrated printed catalogs of the "Fonderia Artistica Sommer". Amongst his productions, there is a life-size replica of the seated Hermes from Herculaneum in the Berlin Collection of Antiquities."

An English language version of his Wikipedia biography is here:

An example of his catalogue advertising can be seen here:

and specifically here: Bronze/target34.html Bronze/target14.html Bronze/target31.html

There are many books written about his photographs, which can be found through an internet search.

Andrew Shore,

As an aside, there is a cast of this statue in Washington DC, created in 1922 by a foundry in Cheltenham (H H Martyn & Co):

Andrew Shore,

The Luminous Lint site (linked to by Kieran above) also has quite an extensive bio of Sommer and the history of his company:

If you scroll down to 'Supplemental information', Giovanni Fanelli has written up a chronological biography with lots of info. Within that section, it says:

'In 1916 at the Civil Court of Naples held the cause for the liquidation of the Sommer Company; an auction was held in 1931.'

Thanks Andrew.

Jeremy Warren, in his note on the NT 'Narcissus' at Anglesea Abbey states that 'In 1885 [Sommer] opened his foundry, which made reproductions in bronze, marble and other materials' but Fanelli's timeline points out that in 1885 the Sommer foundry was already winning prizes for its casts at Nuremburg. That's not impossible for an entirely new enterprise of course but the Wiki material suggests he may have started in that line earlier: i.e. without knowing JW's exact source, 'by 1885' is what seems reliable so far.

(Wiki-type things are always suspect of course and somewhere above one of the links also calls his son 'Eduardo' rather than 'Edmondo', but such things inevitably cast doubts.)

Fanelli seems, indeed, to confirm it all came to an unhappy end in 1916

Jacinto Regalado,

The Narcissus at Anglesea Abbey, which is an outdoor sculpture, is not a bronze, and it is after William Theed the Younger. The original marble is in the Royal Collection.

Jacinto Regalado,

As for the Bacchus or faux Narcissus from Pompeii, the de Angelis and Chiurazzi versions were superior (both can be found on Art UK).

The attached is as much as the evidence here as yet provides on Sommer as a bonze founder. Two very different sets of dates - 1867-74 (Pompeii in Pictures) and 1861-66 (Fanelli) are given for Sommer's partnership with Behles: I have favoured the former since Sommer called his son Edmondo (b. 1864) after Behles.

Evidenced corrections/ additions welcome.

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Jacinto Regalado,

The Sommer copy of the faux Narcissus from Pompeii was inferior to that of other foundries probably because it was not taken directly from the original but from a copy of it by a contemporary sculptor.

Michael Hurman,

Some extra notes that you may wish to consider:

Sommer’s foundry along with de Angelis and Chiurazzi would have used the Collas reduction method ( réduction méchanique ) of reproducing smaller versions of the antique bronze sculptures. The foundries could use this to meet the customer demands of wanting to bring home a quality souvenir of sculpture seen by 19th c visitors following the traditions of travelling on the Grand Tour.

Named after Achille Collas (1795–1859) the French engineer and inventor who created a pantograph style machine in 1836. This machine could accurately copy sculpture in marble, terracotta or for bronze by creating a clay or wax maquette copy to the size desired. This maquette would then be used in the lost wax casting process. The system could also work to create a lifesize bronze from a smaller clay mold such as the Burke sculpture.

The Collas reduction method was used extensively by Ferdinand Barbedienne and later by Rodin amonst other notable sculptors and founders.

Thanks Michael: as regards small items it's easy to assume the making of replicas from moulds but it is clear that things were also entirely remodelled (including the so-called 'Narcissus' originally remade and cast by Vincenzo Gemito, of which Sommer later obtained the mould) but I was wondering how reductions in many sizes on 'factory scale' were done.

ODNB, in its entry for William Theed the younger, attributes the marble statue of Burke in St Stephen's Hall, Westminster, to him and dates it to 1858. This is repeated in the Wiki entry on the statue of Burke at Bristol.

The Victorian Web reproduces photos taken by Katharine Harris (of English Heritage I think, or at least used to be) of the Westminster statue saying it is by John Henry Foley and dated 1862.

Which, please, is right?

The enquiry at the head of this discussion was to discover more information about Giorgio Sommer. His Neapolitan foundry cast the statue of Burke in Bristol, it is the only work for which he is listed as involved on Art UK and he is now in the biography section of 'Resources'.

There was no issue to resolve regarding the statue but, incidentally, the contributions (especially press reports supplied by Marcie) also clarifed its genesis: a summary of that is attached but the discussion is otherwise overdue for closure.

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Another interesting clipping Marcie and intriguing that Thomas probably had Sommer cast a bronze from his iintial clay modello to bring back to show Wills (who perhaps also met the cost): certainly less risky than transporting a clay. It potentially explains the 'statuette model' reference in the Bristol Times reference of 8 Nov.1892. Pity we don't know it was ex-Wills collection, or where it went, but let's not chase another hare. With luck it will resurface at some point - or even another cast.