The Getty Digital Archive Expands to 135,000 Free Images: Download High Resolution Scans of Paintings, Sculptures, Photographs & Much Much More

J. Paul Get­ty was not a bil­lion­aire known for his gen­eros­i­ty. But since his death, the Get­ty Trust and com­plex of Get­ty muse­ums in L.A. have car­ried forth in a more mag­nan­i­mous spir­it, osten­si­bly adher­ing to val­ues that tran­scend their founder: “ser­vice, phil­an­thropy, teach­ing, and access.”

A col­lec­tion first gath­ered for pri­vate invest­ment and con­sump­tion (some­times under a cloud of scan­dal) has expand­ed into gal­leries that mil­lions pass through every year; a Con­ser­va­tion Insti­tute ded­i­cat­ed to pre­serv­ing the world’s art; and a Research Insti­tute pro­claim­ing a social mis­sion: a devo­tion to expand­ing “our knowl­edge of the his­to­ry of art, of all coun­tries, of all lan­guages,” accord­ing to its direc­tor Thomas Gae­ht­gens, who also says, “a soci­ety with­out art can­not real­ly sur­vive.”

Put anoth­er way, as one of the Getty’s art mar­ket com­peti­tors was once quot­ed as say­ing, “They just want peo­ple to like them.” He didn’t mean it as a com­pli­ment, but if you are an art lover—and not a bil­lion­aire art collector—you may gen­uine­ly appre­ci­ate this qual­i­ty. And you may like them even more now that their open access dig­i­tal col­lec­tions have almost dou­bled to 135,000 high-res­o­lu­tion images since we last checked in with them five years ago.

Like the Get­ty muse­um, it reflects its founder’s tastes in Clas­si­cal, Neo-Clas­si­cal, and Renais­sance art. Down­load Andrea Mantegna’s Ado­ra­tion of the Magi (top), for exam­ple, at the high­est res­o­lu­tion (8557 X 6559) and get clos­er to a vir­tu­al ver­sion than you ever could to the real thing. Learn the painting’s prove­nance and exhi­bi­tion his­to­ry, read an infor­ma­tive descrip­tion and a bib­li­og­ra­phy. The paint­ing is one of hun­dreds from Euro­pean mas­ters and their less­er-known appren­tices. You’ll also find sev­er­al hun­dred images of sculp­ture, both clas­si­cal and modern—like Paul Gauguin’s san­dal­wood Head with Horns, above—as well as draw­ings, man­u­scripts, pot­tery, jew­el­ry, coins, dec­o­ra­tive arts, and much more.

But the bulk of the dig­i­tal col­lec­tion con­sists of pho­tographs, with 112,261 images and count­ing in the archive. The Get­ty has “assem­bled the finest and most com­pre­hen­sive cor­pus of pho­tographs on the West Coast” in its pho­tog­ra­phy col­lec­tion (not to be con­fused with Getty’s son’s media empire), with “sub­stan­tial hold­ings by some of the most sig­nif­i­cant mas­ters of the 20th cen­tu­ry.” The col­lec­tion is also “par­tic­u­lar­ly rich in works dat­ing from the time of photography’s inven­tion” and its devel­op­ment in the mid-19th cen­tu­ry.

Down­load and study Dorothea Lange’s des­o­late Aban­doned Dust Bowl Home. Or jour­ney back to the ear­ly days of the medi­um, when gen­tle­man ama­teurs like Scot­tish noble­man Ronald Ruthven Leslie-Melville took up pho­tog­ra­phy as an avid pur­suit, and doc­u­ment­ed the land­scapes, archi­tec­ture, and per­son­ages of their age. (See Ruthven-Melville’s 1860’s pho­to­graph Roe­hamp­ton below.)

Like all dig­i­tal col­lec­tions, the Getty’s can­not repli­cate the expe­ri­ence of see­ing phys­i­cal works of art in per­son, but it does mag­nan­i­mous­ly expand access to thou­sands of images usu­al­ly hid­den from the pub­lic, as well as thou­sands of pieces cur­rent­ly on dis­play in one of its many muse­ums. Com­plete­ly free, the online archive serves as an invalu­able teach­ing and learn­ing tool, a vast repos­i­to­ry pre­serv­ing inter­na­tion­al art his­to­ry online.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

25 Mil­lion Images From 14 Art Insti­tu­tions to Be Dig­i­tized & Put Online In One Huge Schol­ar­ly Archive

Vis­it a New Dig­i­tal Archive of 2.2 Mil­lion Images from the First Hun­dred Years of Pho­tog­ra­phy

1.8 Mil­lion Free Works of Art from World-Class Muse­ums: A Meta List of Great Art Avail­able Online

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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