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The Frick Art Reference Library Opens Two New Online Databases

posted by Christopher Howard — Feb 23, 2010

The Frick Art Reference Library in New York has launched two new online resources that are available to scholars free of charge. The first, called the Archives Directory, is a directory that helps those researching the history of collecting art in the United States. The second, the Montias Database, is a collection of inventories from the Dutch Golden Age.

Inge Reist, director for the Frick’s Center for the History of Collecting in America, says, “Such a consolidated and easily searched online source as the new Archives Directory will prove invaluable to this deepening field of study and will ensure that researchers can locate primary documents such as letters, bills of sale, and other transaction records that are so essential to reliable scholarship. Indeed, users will more readily find their way to all manner of repositories, from those that are well-known to utterly unexpected caches, which in turn may lead to new discoveries and inspire fresh perspectives.”

Archives Directory

The center’s Archives Directory, the first online database of its kind, consolidates a wealth of information about the location and nature of documents and archives available on American collectors. Until now, scholars have had to comb through multiple websites and, if permitted, sift through analogue data held at library, museum, and university archives to construct their own plans for research—a time-consuming and imprecise process. The new directory is, by contrast, accessible around the clock via the institution’s website. Its use will help scholars worldwide as they approach research projects, guiding them beyond existing publications and standard paths to overlooked repositories, including primary source materials.

The Archives Directory guides researchers to more than 5,000 collections held in more than 300 repositories worldwide, which together have bearing on the lives and activities of more than 1,500 American collectors. Information in the Archives Directory was culled from various online and printed materials ranging from federated and individual online library catalogues to Google Books to published literature in the field.

Contributions of additional information for the directory are welcomed by scholars and researchers, so that it will continue to grow and become an increasingly valued resource.

Montias Database of 17th Century Dutch Art Inventories

The complete Montias Database, cosponsored by the Rijksbureau voor Kunsthistorische Documentatie, offers an unprecedented look at ownership of art in Holland during the seventeenth century. It is a trove of searchable information about buyers, sellers, and prices, including comprehensive information on over 50,000 objects (paintings, prints, sculpture, furniture, and so forth) listed in nearly 1,300 Amsterdam city inventories. Approximately half was created in preparation for auctions, almost an equal portion was notarial death inventories for estate purposes, and the remaining documents relate to bankruptcy cases. Although the database, which specifically addresses records from 1597 through 1681, is not a complete record of all inventories made in Amsterdam, it contains a vast amount of information that can elucidate patterns of buying, selling, inventorying, and collecting art.

An eminent economist at Yale University, John Michael Montias began recording details of ownership of works of art from inventories held in the Amsterdam municipal archive, or Geementearchief (now known as the Stadsarchief), in the early 1980s as part of his own work on the prices of Dutch paintings at seventeenth-century auctions.

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