Robert Macpherson originally trained as a surgeon, but then took up a career as a painter. He moved to Rome around 1840, and practised there both as a landscape painter and art dealer. In the mid-1840s he identified and bought a Michelangelo painting, which he subsequently smuggled out of the country and sold to the National Gallery in London. He took up photography in 1851 with the assistance of his wife, Geraldine. Between them, they made his name as one of the finest photographers of Rome in the nineteenth century.