Biblioteca Nacional de España – Digital Collections

March 30th, 2013 § Comments Off on Biblioteca Nacional de España – Digital Collections § permalink

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.

The RKD and their Research Services

January 29th, 2013 § 1 comment § permalink

A friend recently let me know that The Hague’s RKD, the Rijksbureau voor Kunsthistorische Documentatie or Netherlands Institute for Art History, has a research service where you can send an image of an artwork and they will look for comparative material. Their archive of photographs is immense. Erik Löffler, a curator at the RKD, has kindly answered some of my questions about the service and the RKD in general.

LV: Is it right that only a small percentage of the RKD’s images are in the online database? Is it the eventual aim to have everything online? Has Google approached places like the RKD offering their digitization services?

Erik Löffler: At this moment we have some 200.000 images online, out of ca. 7 Million. Until recently a total digitization seemed impossible, but things change, I notice that the subject is being discussed as a serious option now. We also started digtizing other useful sources, like the Hofstede de Groot Index Cards (comparable with the Getty Provenance index, 1.1 Million cards).

Erik Löffler at a free Art Evaluation Session

Erik Löffler at a free Art Evaluation Session

LV: How hard is it to index the collection and find the right keywords? How do you deal with different languages?

Erik Löffler: We use ICONCLASS which is in English and freely available for everyone; for fine tuning we also have our own keyword list. The interface for our databases (soon to be substituted by a more up-to-date version) is in Dutch and English; soon most of the content will also be available in English.

LV: What is your typical day like?

Erik Löffler: We often work on special projects: 19th Century atelier scenes, female artists, historical interior decorations. I am currently working on some 2000 new records in our databases: art collectors (of whom 258 American: from George Abrams to John Wrenn). We also write for specific exhibitions, and receive visitors at our premises: Dutch and foreign dealers, researchers and museum professionals; curators from the MET or the Hermitage are among our regular clients. We get some 6000 visitors a year (and 200.000 databse users). On a weekly basis we also check new publications and add literature to our database records, especially concerning Dutch and Flemish artists, foreigners who worked in the Netherlands and foreign artists who were influenced by ‘our’ painters.

LV: Can you speak about the RKD research services? Where do the requests for research come from? How many might there be in a month? Do you confer with other curators? How many people are there in your department?

Erik Löffler: I have more than one hundred colleagues; we may get between fifty and eighty requests a month. There are curators for Early Netherlandish Painting, 17th C. Landscapes, Still Lifes, 18th C., several for the 19th C., ‘Foreign Art’, Portraits, Topography, etc. I am specialised in Dutch and Flemish OMD.

LV: I expect you receive a lot of Rembrandt and Rembrandt school works to research. Any great discoveries there?

Erik Löffler: I must say we get less and less framed Rembrandt calendar pages… Prints are usually late impressions (or early reproductions), but last year we had a great Jan Victors painting, from a French castle (people drive to us from Belgium, France and Germany on these days). But at our free Art Evaluations Sessions  we always do nice discoveries in minor masters; still to be seen on our home page is a watercolor by George Hendrik Breitner which showed up at one of these days.

LV: What are the fees for the service? And, the fees for scans and photographs?

Erik Löffler: Our prices can be found here. But a ‘quick look’ is free, and we always ask your permission before starting a paid research.

Reading Room at the RKD

Reading Room at the RKD

 LV: What’s with that fabulous ceiling?

 Erik Löffler: The ceiling in the reading room, that’s after the Counts of Holland engravings by Cornelis Visscher II. As you may guess under these huge staring eyes non one would dare to maltreat our books and pictures… 

LV: I see that there’s a site dedicated to The Rembrandt Database, which is in its early stages, and has 12 paintings and close to 2,000 written documents relating to those pictures. To start, the project will focus on paintings, then drawings that relate to paintings, and then drawings that are not connected to pictures. Any ideas when this will be?

Erik Löffler: To the Rembrandt Database we will first add more paintings, it would be great if in the end all known Rembrandt drawings could be included as well… The project is very important with a.o. money from Mellon.’

LV: You grew up partly in Italy?

Erik Löffler: As I grew up in Italy and speak Italian but also French, Spanish and German, and read Russian, my colleagues tend to put through to my phone everyone who speaks some ununderstandable language; especially Italians, French and Spaniards feel safer when they can speak their own language, so they tend to contact me. Even if I am not the specialist they need at least I understand their complaints about food and weather…. As a matter of fact the RKD has an important network function, no matter which museum you need to contact, there is always a colleague who knows someone there, and if not there is CODART which (as not everyone knows) is housed at the RKD!

LV: In an email you mentioned the writer Couperus.

Erik Löffler: I am myself also board member at the Louis Couperus Museum; he was a Dutch decadentist writer. It is of course useful for the RKD to have someone in the local museum world.

After the Antique

June 27th, 2011 § Comments Off on After the Antique § permalink

“After the Antique” like “Allegorical Subject” have to be among the most useful titles. Right up there with the 20th century favorite “Untitled.” The drawing by the Danish artist Melchior Lorck, just below, shows a group of draped figures (“draped figure” is also terrifically generic and useful).  Lorck drew  it in 1552, the year he visited Rome. The figures are fragmentary, all are headless and many have lost their arms, making them more difficult to identify. The Muse Melpomene at the center of the drawing holds a theatrical mask and as a consequence is much easier to recognize than the others. Since the mask is part of the main shaft, and not an extremity, it has survived. Often, people who study classical art are good at identifying figures even if they are without heads and attributes. The stance, and dress tell a lot.

Melchior Lorck (1526/27-after 1583) | Eighteen Studies after the Antique | Pen and gray-brown ink, brush and wash | 266 x 190 mm | Statens Museum for Kunst | Copenhagen

The table below has some electronic resources for studying ancient sculpture and drawings (documents as they’re called by scholars of the antique). I hope to add more links here.


Resource LINKInstitution Behind ProjectDetail
Bibliotheca HertzianaBibliotheca Hertziana, RomeDigital library to digitized books to Antike Kunst. Works by Pietro Santo Bartoli, Domenico Augusto Bracci. Adding
Census of Antique Works of Art and Architecture Known in the RenaissanceBerlin-Brandenburgische Akademie der Wissenschaften Combined with corpus of ancient art known in the Middle Ages and Winkelmann, Corpus
Monumenta Rariora: La fortuna della statuaria anticaScuola Normale Superiore, PisaGiovan Battista Cavalieri, Girolamo Franzini, Lorenzo and Andrea Vaccaro, François Perrier, Paolo Alessandro Maffei, and Dominic Magnan
Musei Capitolini, RomeMusei Capitolini, Rome25,000 images and adding
Speculum Romanae MagnificentiaeUniv. of ChicagoPublisher Antonio Lafreri's 1570s engravings after Roman art and architecture. +1,000 prints



Often draftsman would not be copying any specific work, but instead found broad inspiration in the antique. “All’antica” is what it’s called and the danger is that one could be looking for a sculpture that never existed in the first place.

Drawings Collections and Digital Search Forms

January 31st, 2010 § 1 comment § permalink

The table below lists drawings collections that can be searched online. By clicking on the collection name, you will be brought to their search forms. The most useful of the sites are of the Louvre, Joconde (French state museums), and the British Museum. This table will be updated, not in this post, but at a page dedicated to web resources (left side of home page and called Resources and Links). The Tate has a number of interesting pages about the intricacies of putting their collection online and the initial page can be found here.

CollectionCountryCity/Loc.No. of DrawingsNo. of Drawings OnlineNotes
Accademia Carrara, Ambrosiana, Brera, Poldi Pezzoli, and other Lombard CollectionsItalyLombardy Region3,223Site of the Beni Culturali, Lombardy
Albertina, Grafische SammlungAustriaVienna50,0005,000 prints and drawings online. Drawings not broken out.
Ambrosiana, BibliotecaItalyMilan12,0008,315
Art Institute of ChicagoUSAChicago11,5006,797
Ashmolean Museum - Oxford Univ.UKOxford5,090
Basel KunstmuseumSwitzerlandBasel300,000 prints, drawings, and watercolors. 2513 online
Berlin - Kupferstichkabinett - Staatliche Museen zu BerlinGermanyBerlin110,000550,000 prints and some 110,000 drawings, watercolours, pastels, and oil sketches
Biblioteca NacionalSpainMadrid45,0003,500
Birmingham Museums & Art GalleryUKBirmingham1600Pre-Raphaelite
Bologna – Pinacoteca Nazionale di Bologna, Gabinetto dei Disegni e delle StampeItalyBologna9,000192
Boston Museum of Fine ArtsUSABoston712
British MuseumUKLondon50,000
Chazen Museum of Art - University of WisconsinUSAMadison900Collection of British watercolors
Cleveland Museum of ArtUSACleveland3,7333,733
Cologne – Wallraf-RichartzGermanyCologne1,0001,000 19th century drawings in database. 75,000 prints and drawings in coll.
Courtauld Inst. of ArtUKLondon7,260
Detroit Institute of Fine ArtsUSADetroit2,50035,000 prints, drawings, photographs, watercolors, posters and artists books
Dresden – Staatliche KunstsammlungGermanyDresden377500,000 works on paper
École Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-ArtsFranceParis65,00033,69420,000 drawings and 45,000 architectural drawings
Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco/Achenbach Foundation for Graphic ArtsUSASan Francisco70,000 works on paper
Fitzwilliam Museum - Cambridge UniversityUKCambridge17,40640,000 paintings, drawings, and prints
Flemish Art Collections – Royal Museum of Fine Arts Antwerp, the Groeninge Museum Bruges and the Museum of Fine Arts GhentBelgiumAntwerp, Bruges, Ghent40,000
Getty MuseumUSALos Angeles700700
Harvard University Art Museums - Fogg, Busch-Reisinger etc.USACambridge24,451Fogg has 12,000 drawings.
Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical GardensUSAMarino (Los Angeles)14,000 drawings
Istituto Nazionale per la Grafica (Calografica - Farnesina)ItalyRome7,132
LA County Museum of ArtUSALos Angeles
Leiden UniversityNetherlandsLeiden12,489
MAK - Österreichisches Museum fuer angewandte Kunst/GegenwartskunstAustriaVienna16,932Wiener Werkstätte drawings
Metropolitan Museum of ArtUSANew York15,00023,87156,663 prints and drawings
Morgan LibraryUSANew York12,0002,0002,000 images online as of 15 June 2014. All 12,000 by year end.
Museum of Modern ArtUSANew York10,0005,960
National Gallery of CanadaCanadaOttawa11,13624,000 prints and drawings. 5,595 drawings with images
National Gallery of DenmarkDenmarkCopenhagen60,000

Catalog Entries and Databases

September 19th, 2009 § Comments Off on Catalog Entries and Databases § permalink

If we were collecting drawings centuries ago, at least in Italy, we would probably have assembled our drawings as Padre Sebastiano Resta (1653 – 1714) had–using albums and writing pertinent information right by the drawings. A major drawback of keeping drawings in albums, or laid down on mounts,  is that a good many drawings are double-sided and by pasting drawings down, you lose one side. (Discovering that you have another drawing on the verso of a laid down drawing is similar to the thrill of discovering that there are two layers to the chocolate box.)

Codice Resta

Padre Sebastiano Resta | Libro d'Arabeschi | Album of Drawings | Biblioteca Comunale | Palermo

Most people now keep their drawings in mats and information is stored apart. FileMaker Pro and Access are two databases that can be used for storing this type of information. Since I’m always worried about losing information, whether by corrupted programs or computer failure, it would be wonderful if one could use Google docs to keep all the information together, both fields and images. This would  be useful for accessing information from computers at libraries and anywhere. Once I finish this post, I’m going to write to suggest the idea to Google.

The following is a list of possible fields for catalog entries or fact sheets.

  • Creation Place
  • School
  • Century
  • Artist’s Name
  • Birth Place
  • Birth Date
  • Death Date
  • Death Place
  • Image Recto
  • Title Recto
  • Date of Work
  • Media Recto
  • Insciption Recto
  • Image Verso
  • Title Verso
  • Date of Work
  • Media Verso
  • Inscription Verso
  • Carrier/Drawing Support
  • Size in Millimeters/Inches
  • Watermark Image
  • Watermark Reference
  • Inventory Number
  • Acquired from
  • Date
  • Price
  • Provenance
  • Lugt Image
  • Lugt Number
  • Exhibitions
  • Bibliography – Real
  • Bibliography – Related
  • Notes/Correspondence