30th / VRA 20th
and Capital in 19th and Early 20th Century Visual Collections: Tales in Search of the History
of the Visual Copy as a Gateway to the Future
University of California at Berkeley
Maureen Burns, University of California at Irvine
University of California at Santa Barbara
The goals of the
session were to define the visual copy, to look at the early history of
“image” collecting, and to explore the use of surrogates in higher
education. The speakers looked at
four versions of the visual copy: lantern slides, plaster casts of original
sculpture, study photograph collections, and architects' books.
Emphasis was placed on the socio-economic factors underlying the
production and dissemination of visual copies. The tales told in this session
were critical to the reconstruction of the values, ethics, prevailing notions of
ownership, and educational imperatives governing the relationships between
museum stewardship and the dissemination of cultural heritage materials for use
in higher education.
University of California at Berkeley, “Introduction:
Property and Capital in 19th & Early 20th Century
Visual Collections: Tales in Search of the History of the Visual Copy: Why We
Care, and the Literature of the History of Visual Copy Collections”
The visual copies with which we in collections management are familiar—35mm slides, photographs, lantern slides, digital images—are depictions, surrogates, and simulations of the actual items. In contrast, historically a visual copy had several other, often complex, manifestations and meanings. One of these is the print, which could either be created by the originating artist or copied legally or illegally by someone else. Other forms of copy were those created by copyists working on commission, as well as those created by students, who made copies of great paintings or sculptures while doing a year abroad. The types of visual copies discussed in the following papers were didactic copies, or copies created expressly for pedagogic knowledge transmission: photographs, plaster casts, and lantern slides.
that literature searches yielded a dearth of material on the educational visual
copy, and little more on the history of image collecting. One
of the few mentions of copies and image collections is in Betty Jo Irvine’s
book, Slide Libraries.
She notes other references, all disappointingly brief.)
What is the connection between art history, art libraries, and visual
resources collections? References
to relationships between art historians, librarians, or curators for the
purchase, arrangement, cataloging, classification, indexing, and refiling of
those photographs are scarce to non-existent.
The role of the curator-librarian is absent in most of the literature.
She notes that it would be expected that the history of the visual copy
would have intersected more with the history of the educational visual copy and
the history of the visual collection.
of the visual copy is important because it represents the early beginnings of
our profession. It may also illuminate the omnipresent intellectual property
debate being waged today as we move from 35mm to digital realm. Today, this is a
contested realm with many stakeholders, from media moguls to college
administrators. The historical evidence suggests that creation and use of
plaster casts, lantern slides, and architectural photographs was not contested a
hundred years ago. The literature does not imply that the intellectual property
status of the lantern slide was even considered between creators and users, or
debated among members of professional societies.
many questions, some of which are addressed in the following papers:
Who used lantern slides and what were their sources?
What were they used for? What
kind of contracts did commercial vendors have?
When did collections move from faculty offices to a centralized
collection space? What role, if
any, did curators play in the collection move from lantern slides to 35mm
slides? Finally, why has so little
of the history of our profession,
and the history of the visual copy been published?
to the lack of information on the history of the Visual Resources profession,
Snow, together with Mary Wasserman, will be launching a website, The Visual
Resources Collections Pictorial History Project, that will include, among other
things, photographs of our predecessors at work between the 1880s and the 1960s,
and will be looking for submissions.
Blecksmith, University of California at Irvine (now Getty Research Library),
“Virtual Volumes: Early Twentieth Century Architects’ Books”
The resemblance of
Lowell’s books and the other works Blacksmith examined, such as Austin
Whittlesey’s The Minor Ecclesiastical,
Domestic and Garden Architecture of Southern Spain, included similar framing
and composition, format (many photographs accompanied by brief captions aimed at
architects), and cost (ten to twenty-five dollars, very expensive at the turn of
the century). Blecksmith notes that
these architects were all trained in the 1880s-1890s, and that architecture
schools at that time required students to study photography.
These publications were, therefore, an opportunity for the authors to
demonstrate their talents as photographers.
The sources of the images in these books could vary, however. Those in
Lowell’s publications were comprised his own photographs, ones taken by his
colleagues, and others purchased from commercial photographers such as the
Fratelli Alinari. Some of
these publications were mammoth and comprehensive “photographic study
collections,” such as the ten-volume Spanish
Colonial Architecture in Mexico, a collaborative effort
by Sylvester Baxter, Bertram Grosvenor Goodhue, and Henry Greenwood Peabody.
The primary goal of all of these publications was to disseminate design
information to architectural colleagues.
The creators often
sought to capture more than architecture, adopting ways of seeing from painting
and drawing. At times the scenes
doubled as ethnographic portraits and, in some cases, were idyllic renderings
emphasizing the picturesque quality of the building or scene rather than the
educational value. Ultimately,
however, these volumes were of greatest value to the creators’ peers. The
architects would photograph or sketch inspirational structures and townscapes,
providing collections of these renderings in an attempt to both preserve and
disperse images of architectural heritage.
They served as valuable source books for architects and architectural
historians, acting as style-manuals and study collections that emphasized façades,
landscapes, or street scenes. In
some ways, the images came to serve as “clip art,” a “postmodern”
solution in which programmatic elements are reproduced in a new structure and
by discussing how this is not a completely lost practice.
She visited the Irvine Company in Southern California. She described
their archive of slides of Italian hill towns that have been the source of
inspiration for the designs of new housing developments in Orange County.
Pamela Born, Tufts
University, “The Canon is Cast: Plaster Casts and the American Museum”
The first casts were
manufactured for François I of France. Molds were made in Rome from the
statuary in the Belvedere Courtyard, then shipped to France where they were cast
in bronze. Thus began the export of antiquity casts from southern to
northern Europe and, eventually, across the Atlantic.
Because of the expense, bronze casts were produced less, and plaster
casts became a more popular item to collect and exhibit.
Several European museums opened casting rooms in the nineteenth century,
and eventually a “cast exchange” was established.
Universities could also buy these casts for teaching purposes.
One main benefit of this form of collecting was the prevention of the
acquisition of fakes and forgeries by museums.
A second benefit was cost, which was a fraction of that of original and
The Boston Athenaeum
was one of the first American museums to build a collection of plaster casts
along with its collection of originals.
This collection evolved into the Boston Museum of Fine Arts (BMFA), which
by 1890 had grown to 777 plaster cast reproductions (the third largest in the
world). Other American museums followed suit, and significant plaster cast
collections sprang up around the country toward the end of the nineteenth
century. Around this same time,
however, a group from the BMFA tried to shift the museum’s collecting goal
away from casts to originals, which were becoming more available as works from
private European collections and finds from archaeological digs flooded the
market. By the end of the century,
original pieces were regularly shipped from Europe, and the originals slowly
began displacing the plaster casts on display.
This trend was also adopted by wealthy collectors in New York, such as
J.P. Morgan, who went about building collections of originals with gusto.
Some scholars, such
as the BMFA’s Antiquities Curator, believed that plaster casts and copies
still had an important function and they argued to keep them in the collections.
He engaged in the “Battle of the Casts,” which involved fighting
those who wanted them removed. When
the new BMFA opened in 1909 there were casts displayed in two courts, but by
1927 all casts had either been given away to schools and colleges or were
destroyed and thrown away. Universities
and colleges, however, continued to collect casts, and the College Art
Association published lists of recommended casts until 1917.
In recent years there has been a modest resurgence of interest in museums
to restore and maintain what remains of their plaster cast collections.
Born concluded by
asking whether this kind of absolute shift of medium teaches us a lesson.
Perhaps rather than throwing out or destroying unused, obsolete teaching
material (such as lantern slides or print photographs), curators and librarians
need to consider what their future value they might be.
Mahard, Harvard University, “Berenson Was Right: The Formation and Development
of the Photographic Collections for the Study and Teaching of the History of
Mahard spoke on the
“campaigns” undertaken by collectors, museums, and libraries to build
photography collections. The
photographs were used as supplements to study collections of prints and plaster
casts, and intended as documentation. The
campaigns could focus on a collection, an artist’s oeuvre,
or a movement; in fact some of the campaigns are still in operation.
One great example is Berenson’s collection, begun in 1895, which
eventually grew to contain over 300,000 photographs documenting the history of
Italian art of the Renaissance. This
collection is now housed at Harvard’s Villa I Tatti in Florence.
These collections have largely been replaced by 35mm slides as study
aids, but are still of great importance as evidence of the development of the
discipline of art history. Digitization
brings new possibilities to their role as study aids.
van Roessel, Art Institute of Chicago, “Through a Glass, Brightly: Re-Viewing
a Lost Pedagogical and Architectural Landscape Through Historic Lantern
Van Roessel described
the diminishing value of lantern slides to collections as they were replaced by
35mm slides and digital images. She
argued for a reassessment of them
as valuable sources of historic documentation, particularly their role in the
history of art education. She
focused on the collection of the Ryerson Library at The Art Institute of Chicago
(AIC), which has a collection of 3,200 lanterns slides, left from a collection
built from the 1880s to the beginning of World War II.
These slides provide interesting documentation of the teaching and
research interests of the AIC’s scholars.
They are comprised of architectural and landscape images, from the United
States, Europe, South America, and Asia, increasing their value as documentation
of buildings and environments that have since been destroyed or drastically
altered. Like the photographic
collection described in the previous paper, perhaps these lantern slides can
have a second life through the intervention of digitization.
Affiliations and Projects on the Web:
Architects Oral History Project
Research Institute (see: digital resources, research library, photo study
Photographs and Special Visual Collections
of University of California Images (LUCI)
and Burnham Archives, Art Institute of Chicago
and Photograph Image Retrieval Online (SPIRO)