Fototeca / Photograph Archive

Fototeca / Photograph Archive

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 classical antiquity to post-impressionism and from Europe and north Africa to south and east Asia. Its central focus, however, is Italian art, especially painting and drawing, of the later Middle Ages and Renaissance between 1250 and 1600, and it is only this part of the collection that continues to be developed systematically. 

Like other historical photo archives, I Tatti’s is a repository both of images and of photographs as objects. Ranging in date from the 1880s to the present and representing the full range of photographic techniques, the photographs preserve a visual record of a vast array of artworks.  They include images of works that have since been destroyed or have otherwise disappeared from public view, or works at different stages of conservation. It is also an exceptional archive of documents. Many photos bear annotations by Bernard, Mary, their associates, or other scholars recording dates, provenance, shifting attributions and other information. The collection also holds related sources such as letters and clippings. 

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.

Finding images

The Photograph Archive currently has no public catalog or inventory for all of its holdings, though several cataloging and digitization initiatives are underway to make significant sections or thematic groups of images accessible online.

Onsite:  classification system and finding aids

Onsite, the physical arrangement of the photographs, which preserves the Berensons' own classification scheme, provides a basic finding aid to the collection. It is organized by national "schools" of painting and drawing (Italian, German, etc.), other media (illuminated manuscripts, sculpture, etc.), or other broad categories (Classical art, Asian and Islamic art, etc.). The core of the collection, the Italian Schools of painting and drawing, is divided into Florentine, Venetian, Sienese, Northern Italian, Central Italian, and Southern Italian, and within each regional "school" photographs are arranged roughly chronologically and then by artist, while each artist's works are organized by location. For the Italian Schools and a few other categories, printed finding aids are available onsite.  An inventory of the entire collection is currently in progress.

Records and Images in VIA and HOLLIS

The Photograph Archives' holdings for hundreds of individual artists represented in the Italian regional "schools" of painting are described in summary fashion in collection-level records in the HOLLIS catalog. Additional collection-level records for artists are steadily being added. Here, for instance, is the record for the Florentine artist Giotto. Follow this link instead to retrieve the entire group of records for artists.

Works of art and the photographs in the collection that represent them are gradually being cataloged, utilizing Harvard Library's OLIVIA image cataloging system. For a general overview of the principles that guide the Photograph Archive's cataloging of images, click here. Textual records and associated digital images are displayed both in the VIA image catalog and in HOLLIS, where they appear in somewhat different format and with different search, filtering, and display options.

Records and images that are currently visible illustrate two distinct themes:  the fresco cycle of the Life of Saint Francis in the church of S. Francesco in Assisi, and "Homeless Paintings of the Italian Renaissance."

Read more about and get access to:

The Life of Saint Francis

"Homeless Paintings of the Italian Renaissance"