The British Library makes available 30,000 digital images representing key objects from their holdings. Users can search using keywords (unfortunately there is no advanced search functionality), or browse online exhibition groups such as “Victorian Popular Music” and “Philatelic Rarities”. Images are very good throughout, and many bound works, like Handel’s Messiah, are viewable in the Library’s “Turning the Pages” software (requires Microsoft’s SilverLight browser plugin) as browsable, page-flip-able virtual objects.
Of the British Museum’s more than 7 million objects, 2 million have been catalogued, and of those nearly 500,000 objects have at least one digital image available online. The Museum’s collection covers the history of human activity, with objects representing ancient Europe, ancient Greece and Rome, and virtually all non-Western cultures from their pre-history to present. The Museum makes all of its digital images freely available for educational use, including limited-run academic publishing, and while the readily available digital images are quite good, it also has a registration-based system wherein users can request that ultra-high quality renditions be sent to them by e-mail.
The Cleveland Museum of Art makes available more than 23,000 digital images representing objects from its collection. The museum’s holdings span the range of visual and material culture and include works from virtually all cultures and periods of human production. Images are searchable by keyword or using advanced parameters, and available images are of good quality. Also of note, the museum makes requesting the rights to reproduce images fairly straightforward, with an online form linked from each catalog entry.
The J. Paul Getty Museum makes available digital images of a large number of the works in its collection, which ranges from painting to furniture to architectural elements and includes some particularly fine examples of decorative arts objects. The image database is searchable by keyword or browsable by artist, work type, or subject, and the images available are of good quality.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art is the United States’ preeminent art museum and holds more than 2 million works of art representing all periods, cultures, and manners of human creative production, and the Museum’s online database features more than 130,000 digital images of these works. Metadata is thorough throughout, and users can find images by browsing curatorial departments, or by using keyword or advanced searches. While image quality is good for all objects, keep in mind that many (though not all) are available as higher resolution JPEGs through ARTstor, and many of these are made available to publish for academic purposes for free.
The Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History, part of the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s website, is an extraordinarily comprehensive informational resource for students of the history of visual and material culture. The site offers essential information about the full temporal, geographical and material span of human productivity, all illustrated with works from the Met’s collection. Users can access information by browsing maps and timelines, by accessing thematic essays such as “Wisteria Dining Rooms, Paris”, or by using keyword searches.
The Morgan Library and Museum makes available digital images of many of the manuscripts and objects in its holdings. Users can access these images either by using Corsair, which takes the format of a standard Library catalog, or by using the collections page of the Morgan’s website. The collections page is user-friendly but offers less information, while the catalog features extensive metadata but in an awkward format.
The Museum of Modern Art has more than 30,000 images of works from their collection available for browsing and searching online. Of particular interest are the more than 6000 works in the Architecture and Design department, ranging from the mid-19th century to present and representing a wide variety of object types. Images are of average quality, but the browse and search tools are both intuitive and extremely refined. Note that some of MOMA’s collection has been made available as high resolution JPEGs via ARTstor.
The Smithsonian Archives Image Gallery offers a single interface for the browsing and searching of the vast holdings of the Smithsonian’s many sub-institutions, including the National Museum of the American Indian, the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum, and National Anthropological Archives. Users can browse by sub-institution, subjects, or object types, or access images using keyword searching. A variety of media types are available, including very good quality still and moving images, sound files, transcriptions, etc., and users can limit searches by media type.
The Victoria and Albert Museum, a UK based institution dedicated to the decorative arts and material culture, makes a substantial portion of its collection available in digital format through its online image database. The database has more than 1 million entries, with metadata and image quality varying from record to record. The search functionality allows users to restrict results to only the highest quality records, and other search and browse features are both extensive and intuitive. The V&A also makes acquiring image rights and high quality digital files extremely easy (and when possible free) by incorporating “shopping cart” style ordering into the site.
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