Mostly, drawings are in housed in museum collections, but if you live in a city like Turin, with its Biblioteca Reale; or Milan, with its Biblioteca Ambrosiana; you know that rich collections of drawings are also found in libraries. Paper is the common denominator and it’s worth remembering that drawings were kept in albums before they were put in mats and solander boxes.
The Biblioteca Nacional de España, which is celebrating its 300 anniversary, has made available a wonderful database of their collections. They have about 3,500 drawings online. The work of digitizing the collection began in 2008 and this month it launched the new interface. There are many ways to search. I filtered for drawings from between 1550 and 1600, and useful subcategories of drawings in pen, preparatory drawings, mythological drawings, drawings in albums, drawings of flowers, and many others appeared on the left of the screen. The images that appear are high resolution and can be magnified.
Among its riches is the Madrid Codex of Leonardo. It is full of drawings of pulleys, cogs, wheels–the stuff of industrial design–but of unimaginable fascination. There are places in the codex where the drawings are labeled with a + sign, where if you click on it, a short animation of the machine’s action appears.