Wilhelm von Gloeden

Though Wilhelm von Gloeden (1856–1931) was born and educated in northern Germany, he spent the majority of his life in Sicily – presumably, like most tubercular patients, to “seek the air,” but certainly not dissuaded by the island’s bounty of beachside teenagers and nude swimmers. He had studied art history in Rostock and Weimar, and – with little to do in Taormina – took up photography as a hobby. By the turn of the century, his work had been on view in London, Cairo, and Berlin, and purchased by many influential Europeans, including Oscar Wilde. Though primarily known for his male nudes, von Gloeden’s landscapes helped popularize Italian tourism. After his death in 1931, von Gloeden left some 7,000 prints, negatives, and plates to Pancrazio Buciunì, a longtime model and lover. Between 1933 and 1936, Mussolini’s Fascist police, allied with the Vatican, seized and destroyed 4,000 of these works, deemed “pornography.” Buciunì’s descendants still live in Taormina, and still own many of von Gloeden’s prints.