The Photograph Collection: Kress Foundation Digital Art History Grant

The Media Center for Art History is delighted to announce that it is the recipient of a two-year Digital Art History grant from the Samuel H. Kress Foundation for the digitization and online dissemination of the Columbia University Department of Art History and Archaeology’s Photograph Collection. The collection contains over 105,000 photographic prints collected by the department’s Visual Resources Center starting in the early 20th century.

The collection’s subjects concern Western art and architecture, with major holdings in the subjects of Roman and Greek sculpture, Western painting, manuscripts, and architecture from research collections. The repository includes images from the James Austin Collection of French and Italian Medieval Architecture, the Arthur Kingsley Porter Collection of Romanesque Architecture and Sculpture, and the Charles Lennox Wright Collection of Italian Renaissance Architecture and Sculpture. Many images from distinct sources are present, as well as a large number of photographs individually collected by Columbia faculty to serve specific illustrative needs. Prints were ordered from vendors by faculty request, copied from faculty research images, or donated to the department. Donated images are generally sourced from the individual research collections of faculty members of the department, such as Rudolf Wittkower, Millard Meiss and Margarete Bieber.

The photograph collection is currently underutilized due to a lack of accessibility. The vast majority of prints are stored offsite, and while the photographs are sorted broadly by subject, a full catalog of the collection does not exist. Starting in Spring 2023, these digitized photographs will be incorporated into the Media Center’s image database (MCID) and will be searchable by keyword and easily accessible, with high-quality downloadable versions. This ease of use will once again make the photograph collection an important and useable resource.

Digitization of the photograph collection is a part of a larger initiative to digitize the entirety of the Department of Art History and Archaeology’s physical image collections.