Digital Art History Resources: So What

In the past two weeks, we’ve covered a lot of material in relation to digital art history, including laying the foundation with seminal articles such as Johanna Drucker’s “Is There A Digital Art History?”, the first Issue of The International Journal of Digital Art History, as well as Diane M. Zorich’s Transitioning to a Digital World: Art History, Its Research Centers, and Digital Scholarship. We talked about the ways in which digital art history has developed in relation to other humanities disciplines, especially in relation to Adam Kirsch’s article “The Limits of the Digital Humanities,” as well as how digital art history is distinct in inalienable ways in comparison to the *capital letters* Digital Humanities.

This introductory material evolved from the question state, i.e. What is Digital Art History or Is There A Digital Art History, to Now What. Personally, I find this the most satisfying part to analyze. We are able to establish that there is a digital art history that utilizes new methodological tools than other areas of the disciplines that allow us to approach the field in a new interesting way. What’s left? Looking at the projects!

In class on Tuesday, we talked about a variety of digital art history resources that are currently available and I was able to look at and present on Harvard’s Bauhaus Collection. This was a wonderful example of a digital art history resource for me in particular as I am taking ab art history seminar on the Bauhaus and I am looking at the legacy of the Bauhaus for my seminar paper. This resource acts as a great example of a bridge between a physical and digital collection. This resource is very much rooted in the objects that Harvard physically owns and throughout the digital resource there is mention of (and encouragement to visit) the actual collection.

When I was thinking about what I wanted to focus on for this week’s blog post as well as the resources that I wanted to discuss in this blog post, I was of course drawn to two resources in particular: Getty’s Online Scholarly Catalogue Initiative and the Canadian Online Art Book Project as these were two out of the three sources that I analyzed in my SILS master’s paper. And, although I would love to talk at length about both of these sources as I find them absolutely fascinating for a variety of reasons and I believe they would help shed some light on many of the issues that we have discussed in class thus far, I felt like it was cheating a bit to focus on resources that I have already studied in depth. Perhaps in another post in which I focus more upon the publishing side of digital art history I will delve into Getty’s OSCI Project or the Canadian Online Art Book Project (or even the third resource I looked at which are the catalogues raisonne published by Artifex Press), but for the sake of this post I will look at a resource that I have not yet looked into.

I decided to look at Leonardo da Vinci and his Treatise on Painting a project that is focused on Leonardo’s canonical text.

Screenshot of the homepage of Leonardo da Vinci & his treatise on painting.

One of the first things that I noticed that it is a relatively undeveloped home pages and is somewhat reminiscent of an earlier era of the web. It is clearly Copyrighted in 2012 and shows that its home base is found at the University of Virginia. The “About the Project” states that main purpose or aim of the project:

Leonardo da Vinci and His Treatise on Painting is a digital archive dedicated to the Treatise on Painting, the pivotal text for disseminating Leonardo’s art theory in Renaissance and Baroque Europe. Rather than focusing on Leonardo’s original manuscripts, which remained largely unavailable until the early nineteenth century, the digital archive focuses on the Treatise on Painting, the only text by Leonardo that circulated widely in Renaissance and Baroque Europe.

One of the aspects that I found most interesting in this project is that right after the “About the Project” paragraph, the authors incorporate a clear “Methodology” section:

The project adopts new representational and interpretative methodologies that integrate traditional scholarship in art history, philology, literature, and cultural history with new research tools in information technology. These modern methodologies are eminently suitable to represent and analyze the precious, and thus far neglected, internal evidence of the manuscript copies of Leonardo’s Treatise on Painting, particularly their textual and visual variations, the relations between word and image, and their physical characteristics.

The sophisticated database structure and research tools make it possible to account for the synchronic and diachronic diffusion of Leonardo’s Treatise on Painting in many copies, in different places, and at different times.

I found this to be a valuable aspect of the project that I have not encountered in many other resources; by making a clear distinction of the methodology of the project, not only creating a concise reasoning of why they made the project in the first place, but also so that researchers and scholars have a clear methodology already outlined for them.

After these sections, this project has a detailed explanation of the various resources incorporated in the project as well as a helpful overview in how to best use the website. Additional aspects of the project that I found particularly enlightening was that they incorporated a very detailed Copyright section in which they describe the rights and attributes to the entire site as well as the material that is incorporated in the site.

Screenshot of Conditions of Use and Copyright Information from

Overall, this seems to be a really great resource for scholars; I think that it has a steep learning curve in regards to Leonardo’s writing so I think that it is definitely aimed at scholars in the field rather than students or general users. There is a beneficial comparison tool in which you can look at two different texts or two different images from various manuscripts (although for art historians, the lack of a zoom function seems a smidge frustrating).