For over a century the Photo library has been collecting photographic reproductions predominantly of Italian art from late Antiquity to the modern era. The development of the collection of more than 610,000 photographs coincides with and complements the Institute's research projects. Over the past several years, the transition to "new media" (electronic cataloguing, digital photographs, online visualization and presentation technologies) has defined much of the day-to-day operations of the Photo library. With the advent of the digital era, the academic understanding of the historical significance of analogue photographs has come more sharply into focus. As a result, the historical material held by the Photo library is now at the centre of its research interests and practices. Throughout its long history, it has come into the possession of old, and in some instances, rare photographs as well as photographic volumes coming from bequests and donations of distinguished art historians, themselves worthy of research as historically important compilations. Naturally, the preservation, maintenance, and enhancement of these collections are fundamentally as important as the continued use and development of new media.
The Photo library makes photographic material available that is focused mainly on Italian art from late Antiquity to the modern era, with a particular concentration on central and northern Italy. From the outset, the goal of establishing a comprehensive documentation of works within a range of genres and periods has remained paramount. Within the framework of this aim, those fields which have traditionally stood as central to the institute’s research are particularly well represented. This concentration is manifest, for example, in the category of Tuscan art, in particular, as well in Italian painting from the Middle Ages to the nineteenth century, in general. Beyond this traditional Italian focus, the holdings are currently being enhanced through the activities of individual, self-contained research groups. One of these insular collections, for example, is dedicated to the documentation of the medieval art of Georgia.
Through photo campaigns, acquisitions (analogue as well as digital photos and negatives), bequests, and donations, the holdings of the Photo library have been continuously and systematically enlarged. Individual photo campaigns concentrate themselves on the documentation of monuments that offer little or no public access, such as private palaces and villas in Florence and the surrounding area. For the realization of thematic photo campaigns, the Photothek cooperates with such Florentine museums as the Galleria dell'Accademia, Giardino di Boboli and the Bargello. In the framework of the CENOBIUM project, for example, Romanesque capitals in several important Mediterranean cloisters are currently undergoing comprehensive visual and historical documentation.
The digital image library comprises images from several different sources: digital photo campaigns, purchased digital material, and digitalized negatives from our own archives. Approximately 50,000 photos as high-resolution image files are available for consultation on the internet.
Holdings - Taxonomy
The holdings of the Photo library are organized according to the subject classifications of architecture, sculpture, painting, and applied arts, all freely accessible in open stacks. Photographs of ancient art (architecture, sculpture, painting, mosaic) are housed within a separate section.
The architecture section is divided first according to chronological periods. Within these periods, photographs of Italian architecture are subdivided according to region (from north to south), within which they are arranged alphabetically by location. This section also includes subcategories dedicated to urbanism, architectural drawings, landscape architecture, museology, and theatre design, as well as non-Italian architecture, which is classified alphabetically by location within each country.
The sections of painting and sculpture are classified according to chronological periods. Within each of these periods images of works of art are arranged in alphabetical order by artist's name, followed by anonymous works arranged according to their current location in topographical order.
Drawings, prints, and miniatures are integrated into this section, while the section on painting also includes a subcategory dedicated to portraiture as well as self portraits in the collection of the Uffizi. The section devoted to applied arts is first divided according to object type and material, which are then subdivided by chronological periods.
In addition to openly accessible standard format photographs, the collection also contains large format photos, which are classified according to the same criteria. For reasons of conservation, however, special conditions apply to the consultation of these photographs. The same restrictions apply to the approximately one thousand unbound prints, which date back to the early history of the Photo library and can be viewed online.
A further tool for searching Photo library holdings acquired before 1993 is the card catalogue.