Berenson Library wins "Hidden Collections" funding

June 7, 2015
Berenson Library wins "Hidden Collections" funding

Harvard Library has awarded the Library $38,755 as part of the “Open Your Hidden Collections” program for an initiative to provide online access to over 100,000 photographs of Italian Renaissance paintings, drawings, sculptures, architecture, and manuscript illuminations held in the Photograph Archive. 

Entitled "Revealing Renaissance Art: Mass Digitization of the Berenson Library Photo Archive," this project grows out of a joint endeavor in the 1980s between I Tatti and the Getty Trust to photographically replicate the celebrated Berenson photo collection. Drawing now on modern digital technology, it adapts and transforms this earlier collaboration to enhance access to the collection and multiply research opportunities.

The original project aimed to produce a preservation copy of the photo archive’s holdings as well as to establish a second physical location, in America, where researchers could consult reproductions of I Tatti’s photographs. Altogether some 115,000 of the collection’s photos – virtually all of its representations of Italian art in all media at that time – were photographed, front and back, to capture both the images and the handwritten notes by Berenson and others. Prints of the rectos and versos of the originals were made and sent to Los Angeles, and are now held at the Getty Research Institute. The negatives are preserved on 451 reels of film held at I Tatti.

The scope of the Hidden Collections award from Harvard Library is to scan the 230,000 negatives contained on these reels, with the aim of generating good reference-quality digital reproductions. Once the images are digitized, online access to them will be offered initially according to the artist whose work they record. Images will be linked to existing summary records in HOLLIS that describe the photo archive’s holdings for each artist represented in the collection. Over time, individual images will be cataloged in detail for more granular levels of access, and other means of displaying, researching, and using the collection will also be explored.

For more on Harvard’s “Open your Hidden Collections” program, supported by the Arcadia Foundation, and on the other 21 projects approved this year, see