The GRI’s first born-digital book is a new model for digital art history publications
LOS ANGELES – The Getty Research Institute has released its first born-digital publication, Pietro Mellini’s Inventory in Verse, 1681, edited by Murtha Baca and Nuria Rodríguez Ortega, with notes and essays by Baca, Ortega, Francesca Cappelletti, and Helen Glanville. This publication, based on research that was conducted in the online collaborative environment known as The Getty Scholars’ Workspace™, includes a digital facsimile, transcription, translation, and analysis of a seventeenth-century manuscript, an inventory of artworks in the collection of the Mellini family in Rome.
“Art History is an evolving practice and in some cases the workings of research can be just as revealing as the results,” said Thomas W. Gaehtgens, director of the Getty Research Institute. “The Mellini publication goes far beyond creating digital access to a rare unpublished manuscript in the GRI’s collection. It is a new model for digital art historical publication, including research, dynamically presenting multiple scholarly perspectives and highlighting the questions as well as the answers.”
The 1681 Mellini manuscript held in Special Collections at the Getty Research Institute consists of twelve folios of handwritten text on specially prepared paper. It is a rhyming inventory composed by the Roman nobleman Pietro Mellini (circa 1651–1694), describing the paintings and drawings in his family’s collection—an unusual, hybrid document, both a conventional inventory and a poetic text.
The product of five years of work by a multi-disciplinary international team, the open-access web publication allows users to zoom in on high-resolution images of the manuscript, compare its pages alongside an Italian transcription and English translation, explore scholars’ commentary on individual lines, read essays, and more. The project’s principal investigators are Murtha Baca, head of the digital art history program at the Getty Research Institute, and Nuria Rodríguez Ortega, professor and chair of the art history department at the University of Málaga in Spain. A list of the entire project team is available online as part of the publication.
In the thirteen brief essays that are part of the scholarly apparatus surrounding the original object, Baca and her co-authors explore this unusual document, explaining its history, purpose, context, and relationship to a conventional legal inventory of the same art collection that was drawn up just a year before. Pietro Mellini’s Inventory in Verse, 1681, provides insight into the collecting practice of elite Roman families of the Baroque period and into the important role that inventories played in the fashioning of these families’ public identities.
“The GRI’s first born-digital publication is more than an analysis of a rare document or art historical text,” said Baca. “Like the manuscript that is its focus, this online book is both hybrid and unique. We believe that it represents a paradigm shift; unlike a conventional print publication, the information gleaned from 17th century texts is presented here in a way that takes advantage of the non-linear and hyperlinked environment of the web. It was researched and organized online and created to be navigated the way people intuitively use information on the Internet.” She went on to say, “Another key feature of our project was the fact that it is truly a multi-author work; ours was a deliberate attempt to break with the single authorial voice that has largely dominated art-historical monographs.”
Unlike a conventional print publication, this online book does not simply provide a list of the artists mentioned in the inventory, but provides these artists’ names as controlled vocabulary, linking the names as they appear in the inventory (often with alternate spellings) to the full information in one of the GRI’s electronic thesauri, the Union List of Artist Names (ULAN)®. Similarly, the publication’s “List of Artworks” section provides information about the works in the inventory including an art-historical analysis of them, but also indicates what each work depicts using Iconclass subject categories.
Digital art historical publications offer new possibilities not only for sharing the product of research, but also illuminating the process by which it is created. This publication reveals debates between scholars, preserved within the annotations of the manuscript. Where Baca translates “di sua fama . . . il chiaro suono” in Folio 2, verso as “the clear sound of his fame,” Glanville suggests “his resounding fame.” Baca responds with a third option: “his clarion fame.” The exchange exposes the discursive aspects of art historical research, interpretation, and argumentation, as well as the subjective nature of translation work.
While Pietro Mellini’s Inventory in Verse, 1681, illustrates the possibilities of research and analysis in art history, it also highlights the limits of what can be discovered with certainty about works described in pre-modern documents. Of the ninety works described in Pietro Mellini’s poetic inventory, the research team was able to unequivocally identify only a handful, leaving room for new discoveries yet to be made. In several cases, the research team included images and analyses of works that were related to those in the Mellini collection (such as copies or preliminary drawings), or that were similar to the works described by Pietro Mellini (such as paintings with the same subject matter depicted by the same artist or one of his followers).
“The digital publication illustrates clearly that the practice of art history is as much about revealing what is unknown as it is about explaining what is known, and that there is often not a single ‘right answer’ in our discipline,” said Baca.
In keeping with the Getty’s Open Content Policy, the entire digital facsimile, transcription, and translation are available for download and re-use.
This publication is a critical digital facsimile of a seventeenth-century manuscript, an inventory of artworks in the collection of the Mellini family in Rome. It is based on research that began in the innovative online collaborative environment known as The Getty Scholars’ Workspace™, which is currently being developed through generous partnership support from the Seaver Institute.
The J. Paul Getty Trust is an international cultural and philanthropic institution devoted to the visual arts that includes the J. Paul Getty Museum, the Getty Research Institute, the Getty Conservation Institute, and the Getty Foundation. The J. Paul Getty Trust and Getty programs serve a varied audience from two locations: the Getty Center in Los Angeles and the Getty Villa in Malibu.
The Getty Research Institute is an operating program of the J. Paul Getty Trust. It serves education in the broadest sense by increasing knowledge and understanding about art and its history through advanced research. The Research Institute provides intellectual leadership through its research, exhibition, and publication programs and provides service to a wide range of scholars worldwide through residencies, fellowships, online resources, and a Research Library. The Research Library—housed in the 201,000-square-foot Research Institute building designed by Richard Meier—is one of the largest art and architecture libraries in the world. The general library collections (secondary sources) include almost 900,000 volumes of books, periodicals, and auction catalogues encompassing the history of Western art and related fields in the humanities. The Research Library's special collections include rare books, artists' journals, sketchbooks, architectural drawings and models, photographs, and archival materials.
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