Costumi della Liguria (#6457) by Alfredo Noack

This view of women and girls working was captured by the German-Italian photographer Alfredo Noack (1833-1895).  Born August Alfred Noack in Dresden in 1833, he moved to Italy in his early twenties, first living in Rome (1856-1860) and then moving to Genoa, where he opened a photography studio.  He lived in Genoa for the rest of his life, eventually becoming a naturalized Italian citizen.  He specialized in picturesque images of the city and surrounding area, which he sold to tourists and other visitors.  His Italian Wikipedia page has the following (translated by Google):

He opened his own studio in Vico del Filo 1, 7th floor, apartment 17, in the historical center of Genoa. From here, he organized a meticulous series of precise and passionate works destined to remain over time: sepia-toned images which then went around the world bringing abroad a different and poetic testimony of a city in constant transformation, of its fabric urban and social and of the people who lived there. The photographic plates thus fix fishing scenes in seaside resorts of the Ligurian Riviera or aspects of alpine life in the hinterland, with farmers at work and grazing animals; all subjects until then the exclusive heritage of painting.

The photo at the top of this page is from a series titled Costumi della Liguria.  I think the two women and three little girls are bleaching fabrics, although I’m not entirely sure. 

'Costumi della Liguria' by Alfredo Noack (#6457) 4
Label on the back of the mount

I also don’t know how many images were included in the series.  Noack numbered all his images chronologically, with this series being just a small segment of the total.  This particular image is numbered 6457 in the lower right corner (inscribed in the negative).  The National Galleries of Scotland have #6445 (a boy with a cow) and #6451 (an older lady sitting on a step).  A few years ago an auction house in Italy sold #6461 and #6462.  Like this photo, those two seem to be connected to the bleaching or washing of fabrics.  The same auction house also sold two prints from an earlier series about the fisherman of Bordighera (#6349 and #6361).  Some of Noack’s architectural views of Genoa can be found elsewhere online.

It looks like hard work:

'Costumi della Liguria' by Alfredo Noack (#6457) 2

'Costumi della Liguria' by Alfredo Noack (#6457) 3

In 1926 the city of Genoa purchased all of Alfredo Noack’s surviving negatives, numbering more than 4,000.


41 thoughts on “Costumi della Liguria (#6457) by Alfredo Noack

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  1. At first I thought they were washing clothes. Either way, it was hard work and the girls seem to be learning. I wonder what their faces reflected. No shoes but one has a lovely scarf. I wonder if they were bleaching fabric, was it for use at home or for sale.

    Liked by 3 people

  2. It’s interesting that the woman on the left in the first photo and the young girl on the left in the foreground of the second photo seem to have their hair done in the same way. I wonder if they might be mother and daughter. The scarfs certainly brought back memories. I’d forgotten the cotton scarves that I often wore in my grade school years; some traditions endure.

    It does seem as though something other than simple clothes washing is going on. If they were doing laundry, there would be different fabrics involved. These all look the same.

    What caught my attention right away was the name of the photographer: Noack. One of my Houston congregations had an organ built by the Noack Organ Company, now in Massachusetts. The founder, Fritz Noack, died in 2021. It’s a magnificent instrument; I’ll see if I can find an example of its sound online.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. It hadn’t occurred to me that the little girls might be daughters of the women, but that makes perfect sense. Maybe the girls were “helping” the way children often do. I was a little bit surprised by their headscarves, as I never associated them with Italy, but that’s just ignorance on my part. It’s sweet to think of you wearing one as a child in Iowa!

      I’m sure the Noack Organ family is related to Alfredo Noack. Alfredo’s family was Evangelical Lutheran and they lived in Dresden.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. What a rich trove of images he created! Even if they aren’t strictly candid, they don’t look very artificially posed, which makes them feel like real glimpses at the lives they are depicting. It’s great that you are able to have one.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I agree that this image doesn’t look posed. It’s as if he said, “Do what you normally would and pretend I’m not here.” Some of his other images look more posed, but still natural. He must have had a knack for making people feel at ease.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Brad,
    This is a lovely photograph of what must have been a common community activity for women at the time. They all appear very industrious in their attention to the process. At first, I didn’t identify the stone vat containing a liquid but thought it was fabric laid out in a rectangle. That answers the question of no “containers” of bleach in the image. I am curious, how did you infer they were bleaching the fabric and not just washing it? Was it because the fabrics are all white and there is no clothing?
    Curious about what was used as bleach historically, I did a Google search and came up with the following in historic chronologic order:
    • “Crofting” by the Dutch (alternately soaking in lye made from wood or other plant ash) and then “Grassing” (laying fabric out on grass to dry in the sun – O2 from grass photosynthesis + sun can result in hydrogen peroxide) and later neutralizing the lye with sour milk. The sunlight alone would help the bleaching process. This was an extended, laborious process.
    • sodium hypochlorite (chlorine bleach) appeared after 1797
    • hydrogen peroxide – late 1800’s
    • There must have been a trial and error process to discover the best bleach strength of the latter two chemicals to prevent degradation of the fabric which was time consuming to make by hand.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Hi Stewart,
      Yes, I assumed they must be bleaching because all the fabrics are white and because there wasn’t any clear way to rinse them after washing. The information you found about bleaching is interesting. Most online sources about Alberto Noack suggest that he took most of his photos of Genoa in the 1880s. I wonder if historians in Genoa might know which chemicals were in use at that time. I also wonder if the city has digitized its collection of Noack negatives. If they haven’t yet, they surely will.


    1. I bought it on eBay from a dealer in Paris. Inexplicably, the dealer had listed the photographer as unknown. Otherwise I’m sure a Noack collector would have bought it. I came across it by accident and was immediately smitten.


  5. What an intersting post, Brad! I immediately came to think of a similar wash basin I ecountered in a small mountain village in Spain. The basin was made in the same way as this one, except it had a roof as well. It was not a house, so you could see the basin from all angles. Of course it was not in use, except by some mountain goats seeking shelter from the sun. When I look at this photograph I think these women and girls could have needed such a roof 😊☀️

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    1. That’s a delightful memory, Thérèse. My mother had a similar response when she saw this photo. She remembered seeing scenes like this in Portugal when she and my father and my older sister lived there in 1969-70. At that time such basins were still in use, although probably not for bleaching. Today they’re probably used exclusively by goats. 😌

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Wow, 69-70 is not long ago. These things look pretty ancient. But I suppose it took a long time for village people to install washing machines with all it entails. It’s nice they haven’t torn all of them down though – the goats in Spain seemed very pleased to hang out in the shadow 😉

        Liked by 1 person

  6. Glad Genoa saw the need to preserve and protect his work. We are lucky. A person in my family tree married a photographer in the mid 1800s who was in business for at least 50 years. I think a local historian/ collector where they lived owns his camera and some negatives? However many family photos were taken by this person and we have them in our possession. I had to use clothing styles etc. and the Jane Shrimpton book to help me identify the decade the pictures were taken to help identify the people.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Her books are helpful. She talks about what styles of clothing were in during various decades and what photo props. In the 1800s most made their own clothes and kept up with the styles. So sad when people give up their family photos. I like that even back in the 1800s people took family photos with their dogs.

        Liked by 1 person

    1. It was definitely a hassle to transport photographic equipment around in his day. But I doubt it was drudgery to him. To capture the beautiful images he did, he must have been captivated and inspired. I think the fact that he came from a different cultural background is important to understanding him and his work. Would someone who had grown up in Genoa have been equally inspired by the people and surroundings? I don’t think so, because everything would have looked too familiar.

      Liked by 1 person

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