With its origins in the pioneering work of Bernard and Mary Berenson, the Fototeca, or Photograph Archive, has long been celebrated as an outstanding resource for the study of the history of art. Now holding around 250,000 photographic prints and other related materials, the still-growing collection contains photographs of artworks in many media ranging from Antiquity to the middle of the 20th century, focusing on the Mediterranean basin but including other parts of the world. Its spotlight is on Italian art, especially painting and drawing, of the late Middle Ages and Renaissance from 1250 to 1600, and it is only this part of the collection that continues to be developed systematically.
Berenson’s wide interests beyond the Italian Renaissance are reflected in his photo collection. Important materials acquired by Berenson or sent to him by art dealers and private collectors are found also in minor sections, which include illuminated manuscripts, Italian sculpture, architecture, and views; later (that is, late 16th- to 20th-century) Italian painting; archaeology; early Christian, Byzantine and medieval art; applied arts; and non-Italian art. Of particular importance are the Asian and Islamic materials, including some 2800 vintage prints from the negatives taken by Islamic architectural historian Sir Keppel Archibald Cameron Creswell (1879-1974), and now held by the Ashmolean Museum of Art and Archaeology, Oxford, or the collection of splendid views of India acquired by Berenson around 1914 from the photographers Johnston and Hoffmann, based in Calcutta.
These visual and textual records document the Berensons’ working methods and Bernard's influential career as art critic and connoisseur. They also furnish a wealth of evidence on individual works of art, for instance their passages through successive collections or art dealers’ hands, or traces of restorations over time. The archive's images throw critical light too on such general art historical issues as photography in the service of art history, the history of collecting, and the twentieth-century art market.
The Berenson Library's photographic holdings are the result both of purchases and of important donations and bequests. Since Berenson’s death in 1959, many study photograph collections once belonging to other art historians or conservators have been added to the original nucleus. These include, for example, photographs from Hermann Voss (1884-1969), George Kaftal (1897-1987), Henry P. Clifford (1904-1975), Giuseppe Marchini (1914-1986), Frederick Hartt (1914-1991), Gerhard Ewald (1927-1997), Andrea Rothe and Studio Cabras.
Others have been maintained as distinct collections, including the following: