The Getty Makes Nearly 88,000 Art Images Free to Use However You Like

Since the J. Paul Get­ty Muse­um launched its Open Con­tent pro­gram back in 2013, we’ve been fea­tur­ing their efforts to make their vast col­lec­tion of cul­tur­al arti­facts freely acces­si­ble online. They’ve released not just dig­i­tized works of art, but also a great many art his­to­ry texts and art books in gen­er­al. Just this week, they announced an expan­sion of access to their dig­i­tal archive, in that they’ve made near­ly 88,000 images free to down­load on their Open Con­tent data­base under Cre­ative Com­mons Zero (CC0). That means “you can copy, mod­i­fy, dis­trib­ute and per­form the work, even for com­mer­cial pur­pos­es, all with­out ask­ing per­mis­sion.”

The Get­ty sug­gests that you “add a print of your favorite Dutch still life to your gallery wall or cre­ate a show­er cur­tain using the Iris­es by Van Gogh.” But if you search the open con­tent in their archive your­self, you can sure­ly get much more cre­ative than that.

The por­tal’s inter­face lets you search by cre­ation date (with a time­line graph stretch­ing back to the year 6000 BC), medi­um (from agate and alabaster to wood­cut and zinc), object type (includ­ing paint­ings, pho­tographs, and sculp­tures, of course, but also akro­te­ria, horse trap­pings, and tweez­ers), and cul­ture. The selec­tion reflects the wide man­date of the Get­ty’s col­lec­tion, which encom­pass­es as many of the civ­i­liza­tions of the world as it does the eras of human his­to­ry.

In the Get­ty’s open-con­tent archive, you’ll find ancient sculp­ture from Greece, Rome and many oth­er parts of the world besides; a frag­men­tary oinochoe (that is, a wine jug) from third-cen­tu­ry-BC Ptole­ma­ic Egypt; lav­ish­ly illu­mi­nat­ed medieval books of hours (of the kind pre­vi­ous­ly fea­tured here on Open Cul­ture); works by such inno­v­a­tive French painters as Édouard Manet and Edgar Degas; the stereo­scop­ic pho­tog­ra­phy of Car­leton H. Graves, who in the late nine­teenth and ear­ly twen­ti­eth cen­tu­ry cap­tured places from Den­mark and Pales­tine, to Japan and Korea; the dar­ing abstrac­tions of artists like Hannes Maria Flach, Jaromír Funke, and Fran­cis Bruguière. But what you do with them is, of course, entire­ly up to you. Enter the col­lec­tion here.

Relat­ed con­tent:

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

A Search Engine for Find­ing Free, Pub­lic Domain Images from World-Class Muse­ums

100,000 Free Art His­to­ry Texts Now Avail­able Online Thanks to the Get­ty Research Por­tal

Down­load Great Works of Art from 40+ Muse­ums World­wide: Explore Artvee, the New Art Search Engine

The Smith­son­ian Puts 4.5 Mil­lion High-Res Images Online and Into the Pub­lic Domain, Mak­ing Them Free to Use

Down­load Over 325 Free Art Books From the Get­ty Muse­um

Based in Seoul, Col­in Marshall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

The Cardboard Bernini: An Artist Spends 4 Years Building a Giant Cardboard Fountain Inspired by the Baroque Sculptor Bernini, Only to Let It Dissolve in the Rain

From the Tri­ton Foun­tain in the Piaz­za Bar­beri­ni to the Foun­tain of the Four Rivers in Piaz­za Navona, sculp­tor Gian Loren­zo Berni­ni’s glo­ri­ous pub­lic foun­tains have impressed vis­i­tors to Rome for cen­turies.

Berni­ni angled for immoral­i­ty when carv­ing his Baroque mas­ter­pieces from mar­ble.

Image by Trdinfl, via Wiki­me­dia Com­mons

Eter­ni­ty occu­pied artist James Grashow’s mind, too, through­out four years of toil on his Cor­ru­gat­ed Foun­tain, a mas­ter­piece of planned obso­les­cence.

“All artists talk about process”, he rumi­nates in an out­take from Olympia Stone’s doc­u­men­tary, The Card­board Berni­ni, “but the process that they talk about is always from begin­ning to fin­ish:

Nobody real­ly talks about full term process to the end, to the destruc­tion, to the dis­so­lu­tion of a piece. Every­thing dis­solves in an eter­ni­ty. I’d like to speak to that.

He picked the right medi­um for such a med­i­ta­tion — cor­ru­gat­ed card­board, sourced from the Dan­bury Square Box Com­pa­ny. (The founders chose its name in 1906 to alert the local hat­ting indus­try that they did not traf­fic in round hat box­es.)

Grashow chal­lenged him­self to make some­thing with card­board and hot glue that would “out­shine” Berni­ni before it was sac­ri­ficed to the ele­ments:

Water and card­board can­not exist togeth­er.  The idea of a paper foun­tain is impos­si­ble, an oxy­moron that speaks to the human dilem­ma. I want­ed to make some­thing hero­ic in its con­cept and exe­cu­tion with full aware­ness of its poet­ic absur­di­ty. I want­ed to try to make some­thing eter­nal out of card­board… the Foun­tain was an irre­sistible project for me.

The doc­u­men­tary catch­es a mix of emo­tions as his metic­u­lous­ly con­struct­ed Baroque fig­ures — nymphs, hors­es, dol­phins, Posei­don — are posi­tioned for destruc­tion on the grounds of the Aldrich Con­tem­po­rary Art Muse­um.

A young boy at the exhibition’s open­ing is untrou­bled by the sculpture’s impend­ing fate:

I think it’s cool, coz it’s made out of trees and it’s return­ing to mush…or what­ev­er you want to call it.

His bud­dy finds it hard to share his enthu­si­asm, ges­tur­ing help­less­ly toward the mon­u­men­tal work, his voice trail­ing off as he remarks, “I don’t see why you would want that to…”

An adult vis­i­tor unashamed­ly reveals that she had been active­ly root­ing for rain.

When a storm does reduce the sculp­ture to an Ozy­man­di­an tableau a short while lat­er, Grashow sus­pects the project was ulti­mate­ly a self por­trait, “full of blus­ter and brava­do, hol­low and melan­choly at its core, doomed from the start, and search­ing for beau­ty in all of the sad­ness.”

Then he and a helper cart what’s left off to a wait­ing dump­ster.

His daugh­ter, Rab­bi Zoë Klein, likens the Cor­ru­gat­ed Fountain’s imper­ma­nence to the sand man­dalas Tibetan monks spend months cre­at­ing, then sweep away with lit­tle fan­fare:

…the art is about just the gift of cre­ation, that we have this abil­i­ty to cre­ate, that we cel­e­brate that, not that we can con­quer time, but rather we can make the most of the time we have by mak­ing it beau­ti­ful and mean­ing­ful, liv­ing up to our poten­tial..

Grashow speaks ten­der­ly of the ephemer­al mate­r­i­al he uses fre­quent­ly in his work:

It’s so grate­ful for the oppor­tu­ni­ty to become some­thing, because it knows it’s going to be trash.

Watch The Card­board Berni­ni here.

See more of James Grashow’s card­board works here.

Relat­ed Con­tent 

Design­er Cre­ates Origa­mi Card­board Tents to Shel­ter the Home­less from the Win­ter Cold

Kraftwerk’s “The Robots” Per­formed by Ger­man 1st Graders in Cute Card­board Robot Cos­tumes

– Ayun Hal­l­i­day is the Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine and author, most recent­ly, of Cre­ative, Not Famous: The Small Pota­to Man­i­festo and Cre­ative, Not Famous Activ­i­ty Book. Fol­low her @AyunHalliday.

Behold Ancient Egyptian, Greek & Roman Sculptures in Their Original Color

There was a time when we imag­ined that most ancient sculp­ture nev­er had any col­or except for that of the stone from which it was hewed. Doubt fell upon that notion as long ago as the eigh­teenth cen­tu­ry, when archae­o­log­i­cal dig­ging in Pom­peii and Her­cu­la­neum brought up stat­ues whose col­or had been pre­served, but only in recent years has it come to be pre­sent­ed as an explod­ed myth. Though some of the cov­er­age of the false “white­ness” of ancient Egypt­ian, Greek, and Roman sculp­ture has divid­ed along drea­ri­ly pre­dictable twen­ty-first-cen­tu­ry cul­tur­al bat­tle lines, this moment has also pre­sent­ed an oppor­tu­ni­ty to stage fas­ci­nat­ing, even ground­break­ing exhi­bi­tions.

Take Chro­ma: Ancient Sculp­ture in Col­or, which ran from the sum­mer of last year to the spring of this year at the Met­ro­pol­i­tan Muse­um of Art. You can still see some of its dis­plays in the Smarthis­to­ry video at the top of the post, in which art his­to­ri­ans Eliz­a­beth Macaulay and Beth Har­ris dis­cuss the “world of Tech­ni­col­or” that was antiq­ui­ty, the Renais­sance ori­gins of the “idea that ancient sculp­ture was not paint­ed,” and the mod­ern attempts to recon­struct the sculp­tur­al col­or schemes almost total­ly lost to time.

Archi­tect Vinzenz Brinkmann goes deep­er into these sub­jects in the video from the Met itself just above, pay­ing spe­cial atten­tion to the muse­um’s bust of Caligu­la — not the finest emper­or Rome ever had, to put it mild­ly, but one whose face has become a promis­ing can­vas for the restora­tion of col­or.

You can see much more of Chro­ma in the Art Trip tour video just above. Its won­ders include not just gen­uine pieces of ancient sculp­ture, but strik­ing­ly col­or­ful recon­struc­tions of a finial in the form of a sphinx, a Pom­pei­ian stat­ue of the god­dess Artemis, a bat­tle-depict­ing side of the Alexan­der Sar­coph­a­gus, and “a mar­ble archer in the cos­tume of a horse­man of the peo­ples to the north and east of Greece,” to name just a few. You may pre­fer these his­tor­i­cal­ly edu­cat­ed col­oriza­tions to the aus­tere mono­chrome fig­ures you grew up see­ing in text­books, or you may appre­ci­ate after all the kind of ele­gance that only cen­turies of ruin can bestow. Either way, your rela­tion­ship to the ancient world will nev­er be quite the same.

Relat­ed con­tent:

The Met­ro­pol­i­tan Muse­um of Art Restores the Orig­i­nal Col­ors to Ancient Stat­ues

How Ancient Greek Stat­ues Real­ly Looked: Research Reveals Their Bold, Bright Col­ors and Pat­terns

Roman Stat­ues Weren’t White; They Were Once Paint­ed in Vivid, Bright Col­ors

The Met Dig­i­tal­ly Restores the Col­ors of an Ancient Egypt­ian Tem­ple, Using Pro­jec­tion Map­ping Tech­nol­o­gy

The Mak­ing of a Mar­ble Sculp­ture: See Every Stage of the Process, from the Quar­ry to the Stu­dio

Why Most Ancient Civ­i­liza­tions Had No Word for the Col­or Blue

Based in Seoul, Col­in Marshall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

A Secret Room with Drawings Attributed to Michelangelo Opens to Visitors in Florence

Images on this page come cour­tesy of the Musei del Bargel­lo

In the year 1530, Michelan­ge­lo was sen­tenced to death by Pope Clement VII — who, not coin­ci­den­tal­ly, was born Giulio de’ Medici. That famous dynasty, which once seemed to hold absolute eco­nom­ic and polit­i­cal pow­er in Flo­rence, had just seen off a vio­lent chal­lenge to its rule by repub­li­can-mind­ed Flo­ren­tines who, embold­ened by the sack of Rome in 1527, took their city from the House of Medici that same year. Alas, that par­tic­u­lar Repub­lic of Flo­rence proved short-lived, thanks to the pope and Emper­or Charles V’s agree­ment agreed to use mil­i­tary pow­er to return it to Medici hands.

Dur­ing the strug­gles against the Medici, the Flo­rence-born Michelan­ge­lo had come to the aid of his home­town by work­ing on its for­ti­fi­ca­tions. It seems to have been his par­tic­i­pa­tion in the revolt that drew the ire of the Medici, despite their court’s on-and-off patron­age of his work for the pre­ced­ing four decades.

Mer­ci­ful­ly, they nev­er actu­al­ly exe­cut­ed Michelan­ge­lo, and indeed par­doned him before long–not least so he could fin­ish his work on the Sis­tine Chapel and the Medici fam­i­ly tomb. But how did he occu­py him­self while still liv­ing under the death sen­tence?

As one the­o­ry has it, he sim­ply hid out — and in a cor­ner of what’s now the Medici Chapels Muse­um at that. In a “tiny cham­ber beneath the Medici Chapels in the Basil­i­ca of San Loren­zo in 1530,” writes the Guardian’s Angela Giuf­fri­da, Michelan­ge­lo spent a cou­ple months “mak­ing dozens of draw­ings that are rem­i­nis­cent of his pre­vi­ous works, includ­ing a draw­ing of Leda and the Swan, a paint­ing pro­duced dur­ing the same year that was lat­er lost.” All of these he drew direct­ly on the walls, and their exis­tence “remained unknown until 1975 when Pao­lo Dal Pogget­to, then the direc­tor of the Medici Chapels, one of five muse­ums that make up the Bargel­lo Muse­ums, was search­ing for a suit­able space to cre­ate a new exit for the muse­um.”

“Oth­ers doubt that Michelan­ge­lo, already in his 50s and an acclaimed artist with pow­er­ful patrons, would have spent time in such a dingy hide out,” writes the New York Times’ Jason Horowitz. “But many schol­ars believe that the sketch­es show his hand”: the “impos­ing nude near the entrance” that evokes The Res­ur­rec­tion of Christ; the sketch­es that “resem­ble the cen­tral fig­ure of his The Fall of Phaeton. Some even think a flexed and dis­em­bod­ied arm on the wall evokes his David stat­ue.” And start­ing next week, vis­i­tors will be able to judge these very draw­ings for them­selves.

Not that you can just waltz into this stan­za seg­re­ta: “Vis­its will be kept to groups of four and lim­it­ed to 15 min­utes, with 45 minute lights-out peri­ods in between to pro­tect the draw­ings,” Horowitz writes. ‘Tick­ets, each con­nect­ed to a spe­cif­ic per­son whose I.D. will be checked to pre­vent tour oper­a­tors from gob­bling them up, will cost 32 euros (about $34), and include access to the Medici tombs.” Dur­ing your own fif­teen min­utes in this cramped, obscure room turned taste­ful­ly-lit gallery, you may or may not feel the pres­ence of Michelan­ge­lo, but you’ll sure­ly find your­self remind­ed that a true artist nev­er stops cre­at­ing, no mat­ter the cir­cum­stances in which he finds him­self.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Watch the Painstak­ing and Nerve-Rack­ing Process of Restor­ing a Draw­ing by Michelan­ge­lo

Michelangelo’s David: The Fas­ci­nat­ing Sto­ry Behind the Renais­sance Mar­ble Cre­ation

Michelan­ge­lo Entered a Com­pe­ti­tion to Put a Miss­ing Arm Back on Lao­coön and His Sons — and Lost

New Video Shows What May Be Michelangelo’s Lost & Now Found Bronze Sculp­tures

Michelangelo’s Illus­trat­ed Gro­cery List

School Prin­ci­pal, Forced to Resign After Stu­dents Learn About Michelangelo’s David, Vis­its the Renais­sance Stat­ue in Flo­rence

Based in Seoul, Col­in Marshall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

Explore Exquisite Kimono Designs from 19th-Century Japan

Japan’s 19th-cen­tu­ry kimonos blur the lines between art and fash­ion.

Mei­ji era cus­tomers could browse hina­ga­ta-bon, tra­di­tion­al­ly bound pat­tern books, on vis­its to drap­ers and fab­ric mer­chants. These col­or­ful vol­umes offered a glam­orous update of the Edo period’s black-and-white kimono pat­tern books.

Aspir­ing design­ers also stud­ied hina­ga­ta-bon, as many of the designs fea­tured with­in were the work of cel­e­brat­ed artists.

Each page fea­tured a stan­dard kimono out­line in a back or side view, embell­ished with the pro­posed design. These range from tra­di­tion­al flo­ral motifs to bold land­scapes to strik­ing geo­met­ric pat­terns, some arrest­ing, some dis­creet.

As Hunter Dukes observes in the Pub­lic Domain Review, the Mei­ji era ush­ered in a peri­od of tech­no­log­i­cal advance­ment. Rep­re­sen­ta­tives of the Japan­ese tex­tile indus­try ven­tured abroad, embrac­ing and adapt­ing dying process­es they saw prac­ticed in the Unit­ed States and Europe. The abil­i­ty to sten­cil pastes of chem­i­cal dye onto silk helped to indus­tri­al­ize the kimono-mak­ing process. Peo­ple who pre­vi­ous­ly could­n’t have afford­ed such a gar­ment could now choose from a vari­ety of designs.

The explo­sion in kimono pro­duc­tion spurred demand for fresh designs. Pub­lish­ers began to release hina­ga­ta-bon annu­al­ly. Pre­vi­ous years’ pat­tern books were of lit­tle inter­est to sophis­ti­cat­ed cus­tomers clam­or­ing for the lat­est fash­ions.

Unlike today’s dis­pos­able fash­ion mags, how­ev­er, the pat­tern books’ high aes­thet­ic and pro­duc­tion qual­i­ty saved them from destruc­tion.

In her 1924 book, Block Print­ing and Book Illus­tra­tion in Japan, author Louise Nor­ton Brown wrote that cast-off hina­ga­ta-bon could be “found in all the sec­ond­hand book shops of Japan … (where they were) com­par­a­tive­ly inex­pen­sive.”

These days, you can find Mei­ji era pat­tern books in a num­ber of world class institution’s col­lec­tions includ­ing the Met­ro­pol­i­tan Muse­um of Art, the British Library, the Art Insti­tute of Chica­go, and The Smith­son­ian Nation­al Muse­um of Asian Art, which dig­i­tized the kimono designs by Seiko Ueno fea­tured in this post.

Explore four Mei­ji era kimono pat­tern books here.

Relat­ed Con­tent 

Explore the Beau­ti­ful Pages of the 1902 Japan­ese Design Mag­a­zine Shin-Bijut­sukai: Euro­pean Mod­ernism Meets Tra­di­tion­al Japan­ese Design

1,000+ His­toric Japan­ese Illus­trat­ed Books Dig­i­tized & Put Online by the Smith­son­ian: From the Edo & Meji Eras (1600–1912)

Hun­dreds of Won­der­ful Japan­ese Fire­work Designs from the Ear­ly-1900s: Dig­i­tized and Free to Down­load

– Ayun Hal­l­i­day is the Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine and author, most recent­ly, of Cre­ative, Not Famous: The Small Pota­to Man­i­festo and Cre­ative, Not Famous Activ­i­ty Book. Fol­low her @AyunHalliday.

Behold Shakespeare’s First Folio, the First Published Collection of Shakespeare’s Plays, Published 400 Year Ago (1623)

Sum­mer’s lease may have all too short a date, but every year, it’s time enough for dozens, nay, hun­dreds of free Shake­speare pro­duc­tions to pop up in the parks and park­ing lots.

We owe these plea­sures in part to the First Folio, a fat col­lec­tion of Shakespeare’s plays, com­piled in 1623, sev­en years after his death.

As Eliz­a­beth James, senior librar­i­an at the Nation­al Art Library in Lon­don, and Har­ri­et Reed, con­tem­po­rary per­for­mance cura­tor at the Vic­to­ria and Albert Muse­um point out in the show-and-tell above, 18 pre­vi­ous­ly-unpub­lished plays would have sunk into obliv­ion had they not been truf­fled up and pre­served here by John Heminge and Hen­ry Con­dell, list­ed in the Folio as among the ‘Prin­ci­pall Actors’ of his work.

You may be able to imag­ine a world with­out Cym­be­line or Tim­on of Athens, but what about Mac­beth or The Tem­pest?

Hem­ings and Con­del­l’s desire to cre­ate an accu­rate com­pendi­um of Shakespeare’s work for pos­ter­i­ty led them to scour prompt books, autho­r­i­al fair copy, and work­ing drafts referred to as “foul papers” —  a term rife for revival, in our opin­ion — for the texts of the unpub­lished works.

Their labors yield­ed some 750 copies of a lux­u­ri­ous, high-priced vol­ume, which posi­tioned Shake­speare as some­one of such con­se­quence, his words were to be accord­ed the same rev­er­ence as that of clas­si­cal authors’.

They cat­e­go­rized the plays as come­dies, tragedies, or his­to­ries, for­ev­er cement­ing our con­cep­tions of the indi­vid­ual works.

The now famil­iar por­trait of the author also con­tributed to the per­ceived weight­i­ness of the tome.

Of the 230-some First Folios that sur­vive, the bulk are in library or uni­ver­si­ty col­lec­tions — with the Fol­ger Shake­speare Library, Toky­o’s Mei­sei Uni­ver­si­ty, the New York Pub­lic Library, the British Library the Uni­ver­si­ty of Cam­bridge, the Uni­ver­si­ty of Oxford, the Uni­ver­si­ty of Texas at Austin and Prince­ton among those hold­ing mul­ti­ple copies.

Some retain the hand­writ­ten anno­ta­tions of their orig­i­nal own­ers, a metic­u­lous record of plays seen or read. How many would you be able to check off as some­thing read or seen?

All’s Well That Ends Well, 

Antony and Cleopa­tra

As You Like It

The Com­e­dy of Errors



Hen­ry VI, Part 1

Hen­ry VII

Julius Cae­sar

King John,


Mea­sure for Mea­sure

The Tam­ing of the Shrew

 The Tem­pest

Tim­on of Athens

Twelfth Night

The Two Gen­tle­men of Verona

The Winter’s Tale.

An online ver­sion of the First Folio can be viewed here.

via Aeon

Relat­ed Con­tent 

3,000 Illus­tra­tions of Shakespeare’s Com­plete Works from Vic­to­ri­an Eng­land, Neat­ly Pre­sent­ed in a New Dig­i­tal Archive

The Only Sur­viv­ing Script Writ­ten by Shake­speare Is Now Online

Ian McK­ellen Reads a Pas­sion­ate Speech by William Shake­speare, Writ­ten in Defense of Immi­grants

Take a Vir­tu­al Tour of Shakespeare’s Globe The­atre in Lon­don

– Ayun Hal­l­i­day is the Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine and author, most recent­ly, of Cre­ative, Not Famous: The Small Pota­to Man­i­festo and Cre­ative, Not Famous Activ­i­ty Book. Fol­low her @AyunHalliday.

1,800 Hand-Cut Silhouettes of 19th-Century Historical Figures Get Digitized & Put Online by the Smithsonian

With the excep­tion of Kara Walker’s provoca­tive cut paper nar­ra­tives, sil­hou­ettes haven’t struck us as a par­tic­u­lar­ly reveal­ing art form.

Per­haps we would have felt dif­fer­ent­ly in the ear­ly 19th-cen­tu­ry, when sil­hou­ettes offered a quick and afford­able alter­na­tive to oil por­traits, and pho­tog­ra­phy had yet to be invent­ed.

Self-taught sil­hou­ette artist William Bache trav­eled the east­ern seaboard, and lat­er to New Orleans and Cuba, ply­ing his trade with a phys­iog­no­trace, a device that helped him out­line sub­jects’ pro­files on fold­ed sheets of light paper.

Once a pro­file had been cap­tured, Bache care­ful­ly cut inside the trac­ing and affixed the “hol­low-cut” sur­round­ing sheet to black paper, cre­at­ing the appear­ance of a hand-cut black sil­hou­ette on a white back­ground.

Cus­tomers could pur­chase four copies of these shad­ow like­ness­es for 25¢, which, adjust­ed for infla­tion, is about the same amount as a pho­to strip in one of New York City’s vin­tage pho­to­booths these days — $5.

Bache was an ener­getic pro­mot­er of his ser­vices, adver­tis­ing that if cus­tomers found it incon­ve­nient to vis­it one of his pop-up stu­dios, he would “at the short­est notice, wait upon them at their own Dwellings with­out any addi­tion­al expense.”

Nat­u­ral­ly, peo­ple were eager to lay hands on sil­hou­ettes of their chil­dren and sweet­hearts, too.

One of Bache’s com­peti­tors, Raphaelle Peale assumed the per­spec­tive of a sat­is­fied male cus­tomer to tout his own busi­ness:

‘Tis almost her­self, Eliza­’s shade,

Thus by the faith­ful faci­etrace pour­tray’d!

Her placid brow and pout­ing lips, whose swell

My fond impa­tient ardor would repell.

Let me then take that vacant seat, and there

Inhale her breath, scarce min­gled with the air:

And thou blest instru­ment! which o’er her face

Did’st at her lips one moment pause, retrace

My glow­ing form and leave, unequal­l’d bliss!

Bor­row’d from her, a sweet ethe­r­i­al Kiss.

Hot stuff, though hope­ful­ly besot­ted young lovers refrained from press­ing their lips to the sil­hou­ettes they loved best. Con­ser­va­tors in the Smithsonian’s Nation­al Por­trait Gallery, which hous­es Bache’s sam­ple book, a ledger filled with like­ness­es of some 1,800 sit­ters, dis­cov­ered it to be suf­fused with arsenic, pre­sum­ably meant to repel invad­ing rodents and insects.

Most of the heads in Bache’s album arrived uniden­ti­fied, but by comb­ing through dig­i­tized news­pa­pers, his­to­ry books, bap­tismal records, wills, mar­riage cer­tifi­cates and, lead cura­tor Robyn Asle­son and Get­ty-fund­ed research assis­tant Eliz­a­beth Isaac­son have man­aged to iden­ti­fy over 1000.

There are some whose names — and pro­files — remain well known more than 200 years lat­er. Can you iden­ti­fy George Wash­ing­ton, Martha Wash­ing­ton, and Thomas Jef­fer­son on the album page below?

Some pages con­tain entire fam­i­lies. Pedro Bide­tre­noul­leau coughed up $1.25 for his own like­ness, as well as those of his wife, and chil­dren Félix, Adele, and Zacharine, num­bers 638 through 642, below.

Bache’s trav­els to New Orleans and Cuba make for a racial­ly diverse col­lec­tion, though lit­tle is known about most of the Black sit­ters. Dr. Asle­son sus­pects some of these might be the only exist­ing por­traits of these indi­vid­u­als, par­tic­u­lar­ly in the case of New Orlea­ni­ans in mixed-race rela­tion­ships, whose descen­dants destroyed strate­gic evi­dence in the effort to “pass” as white:

As I was learn­ing more and more about this his­to­ry, I real­ly began to hope that some of the peo­ple who are try­ing to find their her­itage today, who real­ize it might have been delib­er­ate­ly erad­i­cat­ed to pro­tect their ances­tors from oppres­sion, might have the chance to dis­cov­er an image of a great-great-grand­fa­ther or grand­moth­er.

Read­ers, if you are the care­tak­er of passed down fam­i­ly sil­hou­ettes, per­haps you can help the cura­tors get clos­er to putting a name to some­one who cur­rent­ly exists as lit­tle more than a shad­ow in inter­est­ing head­gear.

Even if you’re not in pos­ses­sion of a sil­hou­ette, you may well be one of the tens of thou­sands liv­ing in the Unit­ed States today con­nect­ed to the album by blood.

Explore an arsenic-free, inter­ac­tive copy of William Bache’s sil­hou­ette ledger book here.

via NYTimes

Relat­ed Con­tent 

The Ground­break­ing Sil­hou­ette Ani­ma­tions of Lotte Reiniger: Cin­derel­la, Hansel and Gre­tel, and More

Behold 900+ Mag­nif­i­cent Botan­i­cal Col­lages Cre­at­ed by a 72-Year-Old Wid­ow, Start­ing in 1772

– Ayun Hal­l­i­day is the Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine and author, most recent­ly, of Cre­ative, Not Famous: The Small Pota­to Man­i­festo and Cre­ative, Not Famous Activ­i­ty Book. Fol­low her @AyunHalliday.

Discover the Sarajevo Haggadah, the Medieval Illuminated Manuscript That Survived the Inquisition, Holocaust & Yugoslav Wars

If you attend­ed a seder this month, you no doubt read aloud from the Hag­gadah, a Passover tra­di­tion in which every­one at the table takes turns recount­ing the sto­ry of Exo­dus.

There’s no defin­i­tive edi­tion of the Hag­gadah. Every Passover host is free to choose the ver­sion of the famil­iar sto­ry they like best, to cut and paste from var­i­ous retellings, or even take a crack at writ­ing their own.  

As David Zvi Kalman, pub­lish­er of the annu­al, illus­trat­ed Asu­fa Hag­gadah told the New York Times, “The Hag­gadah in Amer­i­ca is like Kit Kats in Japan. It’s a prod­uct that accepts a wide vari­ety of fla­vors. It’s prob­a­bly the most acces­si­ble Jew­ish book on the mar­ket.”

21st cen­tu­ry adap­ta­tions have includ­ed Mar­velous Mrs. Maisel, Sein­feld, Har­ry Pot­ter, and Curb Your Enthu­si­asm themed Hag­gadot.

There are Hag­gadot tai­lored toward fem­i­nists, Lib­er­tar­i­ans, inter­faith fam­i­lies, and advo­cates of the Black Lives Mat­ter move­ment.

One of the old­est is the mirac­u­lous­ly-pre­served Sara­je­vo Hag­gadah, an illu­mi­nat­ed man­u­script cre­at­ed by anony­mous artists and scribes in Barcelona around 1350.

Though it bears the coats of arms of two promi­nent fam­i­lies, its prove­nance is not defin­i­tive­ly known.

Leo­ra Bromberg of the Uni­ver­si­ty of Toronto’s Thomas Fish­er Rare Book Library notes that it is “espe­cial­ly strik­ing for its col­or­ful illu­mi­na­tions of bib­li­cal and Passover rit­u­al scenes and its beau­ti­ful­ly hand-scribed Sephardic let­ter­forms:”

As pre­cious as this Hag­gadah was, and still is, Hag­gadot are books that are meant to be used in fes­tive and messy settings—sharing the table with food, wine, fam­i­ly and guests. The Sara­je­vo Hag­gadah was no excep­tion to this; its pages show evi­dence that it was well used, with doo­dles, food and red wine stains mark­ing its pages.

Some brave soul took care to smug­gle this essen­tial vol­ume out with them when 1492’s Alham­bra Decree expelled all Jews from Spain.

The manuscript’s trav­els there­after are shroud­ed in mys­tery.

It sur­vived the Roman Inqui­si­tion by virtue of its con­tents. As per a 1609 note jot­ted on one of its pages, noth­ing there­in seemed to be aimed against the Church.

More hand­writ­ten notes place the book in the north of Italy in the 16th and 17th cen­turies, though its new own­er is not men­tioned by name.

Even­tu­al­ly, it found its way to the hands of a man named Joseph Kohen who sold it to the Nation­al Muse­um of Sara­je­vo in 1894.

It was briefly sent to Vien­na, where a gov­ern­ment offi­cial replaced its orig­i­nal medieval bind­ing with card­board cov­ers, chop­ping its 142 bleached calf­skin vel­lum down to 6.5” x 9” in order to fit them.

It had a nar­row escape in 1942, when a high-rank­ing Nazi offi­cial, Johann Fort­ner, vis­it­ed the muse­um, intent on con­fis­cat­ing the price­less man­u­script.  

The chief librar­i­an, Dervis Korkut, a Mus­lim, secret­ed the Hag­gadah inside his cloth­ing, reput­ed­ly telling  Fort­ner that muse­um staff had turned it over to anoth­er Ger­man offi­cer.

After that folk­lore takes over. Korkut either stowed it under the floor­boards of his home, buried it under a tree, gave it to an imam in a remote vil­lage for safe­keep­ing, or hid it on a shelf in the museum’s library.

What­ev­er the case, it reap­peared in the muse­um, safe and sound, in 1945.

The muse­um was ran­sacked dur­ing 1992’s Siege of Sara­je­vo, but the thieves, igno­rant of the Haggadah’s worth, left it on the floor. It was removed to an under­ground bank vault, where it sur­vived untouched, even as the muse­um sus­tained heavy artillery dam­age.

The pres­i­dent of Bosnia pre­sent­ed it to Jew­ish com­mu­ni­ty lead­ers dur­ing a Seder three years lat­er.

Short­ly there­after, the head of Sarajevo’s Jew­ish Com­mu­ni­ty sought the Unit­ed Nations’ sup­port to restore the Hag­gadah, and house it in a suit­ably secure, cli­mate-con­trolled set­ting. 

A num­ber of fac­sim­i­les have been cre­at­ed, and the orig­i­nal codex once again resides in the muse­um where it is stored under the pre­scribed con­di­tions, and dis­played on rare spe­cial occa­sions, as “phys­i­cal proof of the open­ness of a soci­ety in which fear of the Oth­er has nev­er been an incur­able dis­ease.”

UNESCO added it to its Mem­o­ry of the World Reg­is­ter in 2017, “prais­ing the courage of the peo­ple who, even in the dark­est of times dur­ing World War II, appre­ci­at­ed its impor­tance to Jew­ish Her­itage, as well as its embod­i­ment of diver­si­ty and inter­cul­tur­al har­mo­ny depict­ed in its illus­tra­tion:”

 Regard­less of their own reli­gious beliefs, they risked their lives and did all in their pow­er to safe­guard the Hag­gadah for future gen­er­a­tions. Its destruc­tion would be a loss for human­i­ty. Pro­tect­ing it is a sym­bol of the val­ues which we hold dear.

For those inter­est­ed, the Sara­je­vo Hag­gadah fig­ures cen­tral­ly in the best­selling 2008 nov­el Peo­ple of the Book, writ­ten by the Pulitzer Prize-win­ning author Geral­dine Brooks. You can read an New Times review here.

Relat­ed Con­tent 

How Illu­mi­nat­ed Medieval Man­u­scripts Were Made: A Step-by-Step Look at this Beau­ti­ful, Cen­turies-Old Craft

Turn­ing the Pages of an Illu­mi­nat­ed Medieval Man­u­script: An ASMR Muse­um Expe­ri­ence

The Medieval Mas­ter­piece, the Book of Kells, Has Been Dig­i­tized and Put Online

– Ayun Hal­l­i­day is the Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine and author, most recent­ly, of Cre­ative, Not Famous: The Small Pota­to Man­i­festo and Cre­ative, Not Famous Activ­i­ty Book. Fol­low her @AyunHalliday.

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