When Mount Vesuvius began emitting masses of lava in April 1872, Giorgio Sommer photographed the rare natural
spectacle at half-hour intervals from a boat lying at anchor a safe distance away in the Gulf of Naples. In the end he had created a series of shots documenting the volcanic emission. A display of the omnipotence of natural forces, the tower of ash several kilometres high sends shivers down the viewer’s spine. The photographs met with keen interest not only from tourists. In the Illustrierte Zeitung (Leipzig) they were also reproduced as woodcuts that can be regarded as forerunners of
photojournalism. Unlike the relatively matter-of-fact photos that served as their basis, the printed reproductions turn the scene into an emotionally charged landscape veduta. The gulf and the city of Naples fill the foreground; the fire-spewing mountain looms up behind them like a mighty omen.