The cyanotype, between art and science


Cyanotype, also known in as sunprinting or blueprinting , was born in the first half of the 19th century thanks to the astronomer and scientist Sir John Herschel, who patented it as a reproduction technique useful for making multiple copies of notes and diagrams. However, it was the English botanist and photographer Anna Atkins (1799-1871) who used it to create what we can define as the first photographic book in history.

Atkins, as a botanist, decides to create a collection of impressions, cyanotypes of algae, for scientific purposes. Thus gave life to an evocative edition, still a pillar in the history of photography: “Photographs of British Algae” 1843, containing around 400 species of algae. The edition will only be issued in a dozen of  hand-bound copies, some of these are still preserved in the most important museums worldwide. Nowadays his work is taken as a clear example of how a technique with a purely scientific value at its origin, can have an artistic impact, allowing cyanotype to become a medium loved not just by botanists and scientists but also by many artists.


Source: The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Title page of Anna Atkins collection of algae, "Photographs of British Algae" 1843, also created using the cyanotype technique. 


Source: The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Example of one of the pages kept within the collection


The fascinating aspect of this technique lies not only in the result but also in the stages of creation of the final work: the use of various elements such as water, sunlight and the resulting intense blue color, are a further proof of the beauty that resides in and viscerally links the rational world of science and the poetic and ethereal world of art.


This reproduction method allowed and still allows anyone to make prints at home without having to purchase expensive materials, it was a totally accessible means. To date, there are kits available with ready-made solutions to be diluted in water, but the doses for producing chemical solutions at home are as follows

  • Solution A: 100 ml water + 20g Green Ferric Ammonium Citrate
  • Solution B: 100 ml water + 8g Red Potassium Ferricyanide

It will be enough to mix the two solutions in equal parts to create the final emulsion, which will be spread on a sheet or fabric. Once dry and the object to be "imprinted" has been decided, it will be exposed to the sun for a few minutes. Once the exposure time has elapsed, the sheet will have a livid, dull color and will then be immediately transferred to water where we will see the imprinted image and the typical blue of this technique reveal itself. The parts of the paper that are not covered by the chosen object will become an intense blue, the resulting image will therefore be a sort of negative.

In the Gallery and on our online shop you can find Lavinia Fagiuoli's cyanotypes "l'amore si offre come il tè"

Lavinia Fagiuoli "l'amore si offre come il tè", 7/10

Lavinia Fagiuoli "l'amore si offre come il tè", 3/10