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.

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.

Lugt Online | Free Access

March 29th, 2010 § 1 comment § permalink

Frits Lugt’s great work Les Marques de Collections de Dessins & d’Estampes is now online, courtesy of Lugt’s Fondation Custodia. HERE is the link and just below is a screenshot of the search fields.

Les Marques de Collections de Dessins & d'Estampes Screenshot

The first volume was published in 1921, a supplement printed in 1956, and the 2010 supplement is just now available online (from what I can tell, there won’t be a paper edition). All three are online and together they add up to being an invaluable database.  I immediately bookmarked the site and set it as a start page on my phone.   The search fields are easy to understand, navigate, and reset.  For the name and place fields, you can start typing and without completing the word, a selection of names or places materializes. Many of the mark entries reproduce just the line drawings from the earlier Lugt volumes. Especially useful are the entries that have both the published reproduction and a photograph. In time, maybe all of the reproduced marks will be supplemented by photographs.

After a quick look through, one can see that there are still many marks needing to be identified.  If enough people use it, especially museum people with their vast holdings, and they share their findings, more and more marks will be identified. Since it is so easy and fun to use, the database will surely grow. It is also free, wonderfully free.

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

Electronic Resources

August 16th, 2009 § Comments Off on Electronic Resources § permalink

The French win. Of the three websites on my bookmarks toolbar for researching drawings, two are French: Joconde and the Louvre. The other is the British Museum. I return to these again and again. You’d think that America, the land of computing and the World Wide Web, would have magnificent, complete resources, but no.  German electronic resources are also uneven.

The legacy of Diderot and the state structure of French museums have made their research websites remarkably strong.

The Louvre has 140,000 drawings online. For results, each page delivers 5 entries, mostly with thumbnail images that are sufficiently readable (unlike the BM, where the thumbnails are a bit small). If there are too many results, say for Stefano della Bella (there are 688 results or 138 pages) and it becomes laborious going through them all,  I then switch to Joconde which gives 100 results per page, and includes the Louvre and other state collections. The Louvre’s images are richer, so I weave back, via inventory number (listed under oeuvres),  to view the better images.

The British Museum’s database is also close to heavenly. Results include prints which can be good, but also overwhelming.