Still Catching Up: The May Issue of ‘The Burlington Magazine’

Posted in journal articles by Editor on June 18, 2010

In addition to various articles and reviews related to the eighteenth century from the May 2010 issue of The Burlington Magazine (focused on the theme of British art), the editorial usefully addresses the expansion of online art historical resources and the attendant challenges, particularly in light of a symposium held in Leuven this past spring (23 March 2010). Excerpts are provided below, and the symposium schedule is available as a PDF file.

◊  ◊  ◊  ◊  ◊


Adriano Aymonino, “Decorum and Celebration of the Family Line: Robert Adam’s Monuments to the 1st Duchess of Northumberland”

Annette Wickham, “Thomas Lawrence and the Royal Academy’s Cartoon of ‘Leda and the Swan’ after Michelangelo”

Art History Reviewed

John-Paul Stonard, “Kenneth Clark’s The Nude. A Study of Ideal Art, 1956″

Exhibition Review

Simon Swynfen Jervis, “Horace Walpole and Strawberry Hill”


Stephen Conrad, “Reynolds”

Book Reviews

Simon Watney, “A Biographical Dictionary of Sculptors In Britain 1660–1851 by I. Roscoe, E. Hardy and M.G, Sullivan”

Ann V. Gunn, “The Society of Dilettanti: Archaeology and Identity in the British Enlightenment by J.M. Kelly”

Martin Postle, “Johan Zoffany: Artist and Adventurer by P. Treadwell”

Brian Allen, “Empires of the Imagination: Politics, War, and the Arts in the British World, 1750–1850 by H. Hoock”

◊  ◊  ◊  ◊  ◊

Editorial: The Baroqueness of www

In August 2009 we reported on new online resources, prefacing the Editorial with the remark that ‘art historians have been relatively slow to adapt to the changes being wrought on their discipline by automation and to take full advantage of the benefits that it offers’. They may have been slow to adapt, but there is now certainly a steady stream of new initiatives. To name just three very recent examples: a few weeks ago CERES was launched, an online catalogue of Spanish museum collections; the Warburg Institute in London officially announced that it has put material from its archive, library and iconographic collections online; and the Getty has made it known that it has now made the Bibliography of the History of Art (BHA) freely available on its website, having already recently put online a database providing access to the Goupil Gallery stock books kept at the Museum, including high-­resolution photographs of every page.

With so many new projects, one can be forgiven for not being able to see the wood for the trees, although Teutonic thoroughness has provided a helping hand in the form of the German internet portal Arthistoricum,while a similar portal can be found on the Getty website. But the abundance of initiatives is daunting and organising online material does not come without its problems; this led to a timely and very useful symposium held in March in Leuven to ponder what it called the Baroqueness of the Web. This online extravaganza certainly has its positive sides: there is now an enormous quantity of primary and secondary sources available in full text, often also allowing users to flip virtually through the pages of a book; online image databases are getting more comprehensive by the day; and there are a good many periodical archives, as well as newly established e-journals, published exclusively online.

But problems remain. . . . Most people agree that in an ideal world all art-historical databases should communicate with each other and be accessible through one single portal, although how best to approach this mammoth task is less than straightforward. Efforts in the late 1990s and early 2000s to realise such a system did not fare well; the Van Eyck Project (Visual Arts Network for the Exchange of Cultural Knowledge), which was funded by Brussels, has in fact been put on hold. The Europeana website, launched with much fanfare in November 2008 and also funded by European money, has, after some teething problems, at least materialised and currently brings together some six million digital items from European institutions, including images, texts, sound and videos, but its intellectual framework is very meagre, largely due to the fact that Europeana works entirely from the top down by requesting material from institutions and throwing it into a huge melting pot.

If there was one overriding conclusion to the Leuven symposium, it was that, as long as the many initiatives that have sprung up and will spring up in the future adhere to standard technical specifications for online databases, their integration can always be achieved at a later date. This is not to say that there should be no collaboration, but for now it will have to be mainly a matter of good communication and sensible choices. For instance, it is impossible for the RKD in The Hague to scan and properly index all its photographic material, but it knows that its strengths lie in Dutch and Flemish art and has wisely decided to concentrate on those, at least for the present. Should the embattled Witt and Conway Libraries come to the conclusion that they need to bring their collections online, they would do well to adopt a similar ad hoc system and concentrate first and foremost on what is not available elsewhere, thus avoiding the trap of the ‘blanket approach’.

The above examples are of necessity only a very small selection of the topics that were discussed in Leuven. The realisation that integration is a future goal, not a starting point, certainly gives hope for the continuing flowering of all sorts of new projects, making the internet an ever more Baroque church for ideas and initiatives, and perhaps one day that church will have a more streamlined Neo-classical design. For now the Burlington will do its bit by providing on its new website, to be launched in the near future, a comprehensive survey of online art-historical databases.

%d bloggers like this: