Matei Millo Portraying Barbu Lăutaru


Károly Szathmári (1812–87) was one of the most interesting and prolific artistic figures active in Romania in the 19th century. Trained as a painter, he also excelled as a lithographer and became the most important Romanian photographer of his day. He was the first Romanian awarded the title of “Painter and Photographer of the Court,” by the ruler Alexandru Ioan I Cuza and then by Carol I, King of Romania. Szathmári was an assiduous traveler in Western Europe and the vast territories of the Ottoman Empire. He documented the battlefields of the Russian and Turkish armies near the Danube River in the spring of 1854, for which he is now recognized as the first war photographer. His famous studio in Bucharest was visited by the elite of Romanian society, who were keen to have a fashionable photographic portrait. Shown here is a photograph of Matei Millo (1814–96) in theatrical costume, dressed to play the role of Barbu Lăutaru, in the play of that name by nationalist politician, poet, and playwright Vasile Alecsandri (1821–90). Millo was a well-known actor, theater director, playwright, and drama professor who played an important role in the development of the National Theater in Romania. Trained as an actor in Paris in 1840–45, he was an active participant in the revolutionary movement for the unification of Moldavia and Wallachia and the struggle of the Romanian peoples to develop a national literature and culture in their own language. He wrote the libretto of the first Romanian operetta, Baba Hârca, in which he also starred when it was first performed at the National Theater in Iaşi on December 26, 1848. The work was an artistic cooperation with Alecsandri, which resulted in the creation of iconic characters that satirized aspects of a society undergoing the strains of modernization. Károly Szathmári wanted to immortalize these characters through his photography, and he invited Matei Millo, on several occasions, to pose in the costumes he wore in his most famous roles.

Last updated: May 31, 2016