National Gallery of Art - RESOURCES

Image Collections: Photographs


detail of Copy after Peter Paul Rubens (?), Satyr and a Maiden, twentieth century   detail of Raphael, Small Cowper Madonna, c. 1505   detail of Laocoon, early first century, restoration removed   detail of Raphael, Portrait of a Young Man, c. 1516
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RESEARCH IN THE COLLECTION

The size and broad scope of the Department of Image Collections enables researchers to pursue a wide range of art-historical concerns, such as connoisseurship, provenance, and conservation. Images from the collection's varied sources can provide a visual history of a particular work of art. This includes photographs taken of an object while in different collections or states of conservation. For example, one of the oldest photographs in the Archives, an 1857 image of Raphael's Small Cowper Madonna, now at the National Gallery of Art, documents the work as part of the Cowper collection in Panshanger, England, and shows the composition obscured by dirt, heavy overpaint, and varnish. Later images depict the painting after subsequent restorations, until finally the details of the background and the parapet behind the Madonna are exposed. Other examples of works in different states of restoration include images of Cellino Cellini's Perseus in the Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence, and views of the Laocoön, Museo Pio Clementino, Vatican, with and without its restored arms.

In addition to representing a work's various states of restoration, the images often document destroyed or lost objects and structures. Notable examples include Raphael's Portrait of a Young Man, formerly in the Czartoryski collection but lost during World War II, and an important group of photographs by Lucienne Bloch documenting Diego Rivera's destroyed Rockefeller Center mural of 1933. Images of many destroyed buildings are also preserved in the Archives, including Lowther Castle (Cumbria, England), Eaton Hall (Cheshire, England), the Königliches Schloss (Berlin), and the library at the Soldiers' Home in Washington, DC.

Another aspect of the collection is the plethora of variants of old master paintings that come to the Archives through scholars and dealers. The many versions of Satyr and a Maiden by Peter Paul Rubens (?) in the Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister, Dresden, provide an instructive and amusing example.

Adding to the value of the photographs themselves, the majority of the images in the collection are annotated on the back by the previous owner, be it a scholar, dealer, or museum. The historical context is important for provenance research and the history of connoisseurship, documenting solicited scholarly opinions of works of art. This practice, common in the early twentieth century, often resulted in the sale of a work of art because of its attribution to a known master. Experts often wrote their opinion on the back of a photograph, which the dealer then showed to the prospective buyer. Many examples of these annotations, particularly for objects that were offered to Samuel Kress, are housed in the Archives.

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