The Years of La Dolce Vita

Eighty photographs capture the ‘sweet life’ enjoyed by Italian movie stars and Hollywood royalty working in Rome during the 1960s.

The 1950s and 60s were a golden age for Italian cinema. Homegrown directors such as Michelangelo Antonioni and Pier Paolo Pasolini enjoyed huge success, while American filmmakers flocked to Rome to take advantage of the comparative inexpensiveness of Cinecittà studios.

The exhibition takes its name from the iconic film of the era by Federico Fellini, released in 1960. Here behind-the-scenes shots captured by the cameraman Arturo Zavattini are shown alongside images of Hollywood stars such as John Wayne, Charlton Heston, Lauren Bacall and Liz Taylor, who were on location in Rome shooting films such as Ben-Hur and Cleopatra.

This period marked the beginning of celebrity culture, with cameramen staking out bars and restaurants lining the Via Veneto to capture pictures of stars such as Sophia Loren, Kirk Douglas and Audrey Hepburn. In fact, the term paparazzo is taken from a character in Fellini's film, who was inspired by a number of real-life photojournalists then active in Rome.

Among these was Marcello Geppetti whose archive of more than a million images is the main source of this display. Travelling around the city on his scooter on the lookout for celebrities, he soon notched up a reputation for the incredible technical quality of his images as well as his talent for capturing dramatic, eye-catching moments. He has been described as ‘the most undervalued photographer in history’ by American Photo.

From these images it is clear that celebrities considered the behaviour of the paparazzi as intrusive then as they do today. One photograph captures the actor Franco Nero in the act of assaulting a paparazzo at the Trevi Fountain, while another series of shots show Anita Ekberg in her stockinged feet confronting a photographer with a bow and arrow before attacking him with her fists.

Don't miss

Many of Gepetti's images capture moments when ‘the ordinary coexisted with the extraordinary’, such as a picture of Liz Taylor wandering through the streets of Cinecittà dressed as Cleopatra, or the actor Mickey Hargitay riding down the Via Veneto on horseback. One of his most famous shots is that of Richard Burton kissing Liz Taylor while holidaying in Ischia, a photograph recently listed among the thirty most famous images in history.


Venue details

Estorick Collection of Modern Italian Art 39a Canonbury Square London N1 2AN 020 7704 9522 www.estorickcollection.com

Entry details

£2.50 with National Art Pass (standard entry £5) 

Wed – Sat, 11am – 6pm
Sun, 12– 5pm