Getty Art History CD Documents the History of Collecting

Article excerpt

Documents for the History of Collecting, a new compact disc from the provenance Index of the Getty Art History Information Program (AHIP), brings together for the first time a unique, international compendium of information documenting the provenance of paintings and other works of art over the past four hundred years. The CD-ROM allows scholars, museum curators, and collectors to access and retrieve information from European archives, sales catalogs, and museum records, most of which have never before been published.

"Documents for the History of Collecting provides researchers with a wealth of previously unavailable material on one compact disc," said Eleanor Fink, director of the Getty Art History Information Program. "It is one of the first tangible examples of how computer technology can make available to scholars information that is otherwise scattered in libraries and archives around the world. Furthermore, the CD demonstrates the value of using international standards to input data so that information from different countries is compatible and can be retrieved by users everywhere."

The Documents CD will be an invaluable research tool for anyone interested in the history of collecting and the art market. Museum curators will be able to use it to trace the provenance of paintings in their collections. Scholars of art history can study the rise and fall in popularity of a particular artist's work or the changing taste for certain styles or themes over the course of generations and in different countries. Historians can trace changes over the centuries in Europe's great private collections by studying family archival inventories.

The History of Collecting CD brings together three databases of information: inventories of collections gathered from public and private archives in Italy, Spain, and the Netherlands; catalogs of British sales of paintings from 1801-1825; and an inventory of paintings found in many American, British, and Irish museums and the provenance of many of them.

"By drawing on information contained in all three databases one could in theory reconstruct the entire history of a given work," said Burton Fredericksen, director of the provenance Index. "The breadth of information from countries relevant to the history of collecting European paintings enables one to gain a truly international view of the field spanning the post-Renaissance era."

The database of British sales catalogs alone includes over 175,000 references, and the collection of inventories contains individual entries on almost 90,000 art objects, primarily paintings. …