After studying medicine in Edinburgh, Robert Macpherson left Scotland in the early 1840s and, for reasons of health, settled in Rome. Eventually abandoning medicine, Macpherson gained notoriety as a topographic painter, a connoisseur, and a dealer of art, enjoying a central role among the artists--and later photographers--who frequented the Caffè Greco. His striking appearance (tall and fair-skinned, with long red hair and blue eyes, rendered all the more exotic by the native Scottish kilt he customarily wore) and gregarious nature won Macpherson the friendship of fellow artists and the patronage of well-to-do travelers. Further contact with British writers and intellectuals came with his marriage in 1849 to Gerardine Bates, the favorite niece of the author and art historian Anna Jameson. Hampered by lack of discipline rather than poverty of talent, Macpherson was only mildly successful as a painter. When introduced to photography in 1851, he abandoned the easel as rapidly as he had given up medicine a decade earlier and devoted himself wholly to the camera. In the next dozen years he produced more than three hundred large views of Rome and other nearby Italian sites. Macpherson's photographs achieved immense popularity both in Britain and among his countrymen traveling in Italy, for he not only provided pictorial souvenirs of the Eternal City, he also tapped a vein of romantic interest in picturesque ruins, guided in subject and viewpoint by his experience as a topographic painter. In this photograph he recorded one mouth of the Cloaca Maxima (or great sewer), a vast system of arched canals built about 200 B.C. to drain the valleys between the Esquiline, Viminal, and Quirinal hills. As presented by Macpherson, the Cloaca Maxima could as easily be a British nineteenth-century garden grotto as the work of Roman engineers.
Inscription: Blindstamp on mount, BC: "R. MacPherson—Rome"
[Graphics International, Ltd., Washington, D.C.]; Gilman Paper Company Collection, New York, November 19, 1979
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Hambourg, Maria Morris, Pierre Apraxine, Malcolm Daniel, Virginia Heckert, and Jeff L. Rosenheim. The Waking Dream: Photography's First Century, Selections from the Gilman Paper Company Collection. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1993. no. 73.
Artist: Robert Macpherson (British, Tayside, Scotland 1811–1872 Rome)Date: ca. 1858Medium: Coated salted paper or light albumen silver print from glass negativeAccession: 1997.382.70On view in:Not on view