A priest and photographer at the end of Qing dynasty

About 100 years ago, China was under the influence of foreign powers as a result of the a century of political and military failures.

In the once unexplored provinces of China were now mushrooming representative offices, businessman and even religious men. All were exporting westernization in the Chinese soil trough market, regulations, infrastructures and new values.


Self-portrait of father Leone Nani dressing Chinese clothes.

I’m passionate about photography and a few years ago in ran into this interesting figure, the Italian priest father Leone Nani (1880 – 1935) .

Father Leone was a missionary and Italian photographer which spend around a decade in central China.

He began his religious path at Bergamo seminary, which he left in 1898 heading to Rome. He then left for China on September 20, 1903 where he remained there until 1914.

Over the years, father Leone Nani traveled through several Chinese regions and in particular Shaanxi province (陕西,Shǎnxī) i) combining his religious activity with an assiduous work of photographer of the social and anthropological reality of China.

The original plates are now preserved by the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions and have been published in a several newspapers and exhibitions.

Few years ago has been published a photography book  “Lost China:the photographs of Leone Nani” (2004, Skira, by Clara Bulfoni)  to remember his witnesses the fall of the Manchurian Qing dynasty (1644-1912) that started the first republic of China in 1911. .

Father Leone Nani contributed to capture scenes of life in rural China and the Christian community under his care.

Of this figure I admire him for his modern approach to China, for learning its language, for adopting its customs and mostly in trying to understand its people.

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