Reviewed August 2017
Lindsey Gumb, Instructional Technology Librarian
Roger Williams University
The Drawings of the Florentine Painters is a robust digital resource created to supplement the art historian Bernard Berenson’s publication of the same name, in which he cataloged nearly 4,000 sheets by painters producing works in Florence between the 14th and mid-16th century. Berenson published three editions:1903, 1938, and 1961, and this digital resource, produced by a dynamic team at the Harvard University Center for Renaissance Studies (with additional support from The Kress Foundation), enables the user to search through the drawings in all three editions, free of charge. The “About” page provides a thorough explanation of the project’s background, Berenson’s original publications, and the potential ways in which its creators envision researchers using this digital resource to create new analyses of the corpus.
All too often primary source material is digitized with the intention of preserving the original physical resource as much as possible, with access to the content often left as an afterthought. It is refreshingly evident that extensive planning went into developing this resource for a seamless end-user experience.The site offers a clean, almost minimalist (and responsive) design and layout, which helps keep the focus on the viewing and retrieval of the content. For the casual user, there are pre-populated searches or “Collection Highlights,” which can be browsed as-is, or users can opt to modify them by adding more criteria. More advanced users can easily manipulate the search results with the use of the filters on the left-hand side of the screen. Once a filter is added, it can easily be removed or another one can be added to modify the search string instead of starting over, with
the search results repopulating appropriately. The Drawings of the Florentine Painters also has the ability to track a user’s search queries with the History tab so long as cookies are enabled in one’s browser. This tracking feature creatively resolves the issue many researchers encounter when utilizing free digital repositories and are unable to obtain a personal login to save searches and content. The amount of energy put into translating (from Italian to English) and standardizing the metadata for each record in this resource cannot be overlooked, as Getty’s Art & Architecture Thesaurus, GeoNames and Virtual International Authority File (VIAF) terms will help streamline the research process. One minor limitation of this resource is that users are unable to download items directly from this site; rather, they are directed to the institution where the original work of art is housed (ex. British Museum, Musée du Louvre, etc.); once there, users may or may not have permission to download.
While the content, search functionality, and history feature all make this a powerful research tool, perhaps what might make it truly unique and desirous to art historians is that the entire dataset, which the resource is built upon, is openly available in RDF (Resource Description Framework) for reuse under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike license. This open license will allow the data to be culled and analyzed at the researcher’s discretion to identify new relationships between items from all three of Berenson’s publications. Additionally, the item records from The Drawings of the Florentine Painters could be combined with records from other (open data) repositories to create a larger, new corpus of artwork to be analyzed using different parameters. This resource is evidence of how modern-day technology can provide users with new and exciting research opportunities with centuries-old artwork. Users of this resource are in for a treat.
*Note: M&TR editor Alexandra Provo was the project manager for Drawings of the Florentine Painters but did not take part in any aspect of the review process for this particular review.