Out Of Storage Into The Database

The Kupferstichkabinett, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, is home to a veritable universe of artworks on paper, with masterpieces by Sandro Botticelli to Albrecht Dürer, Rembrandt, Adolph Menzel and Vincent van Gogh, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner and Pablo Picasso all the way to Andy Warhol and Gerhard Richter.

The museum’s collection includes around 550,000 prints and 110,000 drawings, watercolours, pastels and oil sketches, making it the largest graphic collection in Germany and one of the four major museums of its kind in the world.

This huge range of artworks on paper and parchment is also reflected in the diversity of drawing and printing techniques used by the artists.

The Kupferstichkabinett is traditionally a place of research and connoisseurship. In the study room, scholars and nonspecialists alike can have the original works of art brought to them to look at, although the state of conservation of some works has to be checked first...

... such as the some 500-year-old drawings by Albrecht Dürer.

Works of art on paper and parchment are extremely sensitive to light and climate, and they are especially subject to damage when they are exhibited, lent out or used in the study room.

The long-term preservation of the works is the job of the conservation department. Using state-of-the-art technology to check the condition of the works in the smallest detail, by monitoring the light and climate conditions and by means of specially developed mountings and proper storage conservators ensure the integrity of the works into the future.

Another sustainable way to deal with the collection is to catalogue and digitalise the sensitive works electronically in as gentle a way as possible. High-quality image files and properly recorded metadata enable specialist researchers and the general public alike to access the collection without harming the works. The museum’s digital database is being continually expanded; at the moment some 10% of the whole inventory has been digitalised. It contains the complete research catalogue of the estate of Karl Friedrich Schinkel comprising up to 6000 works. 

In addition, in Spring 2017 the complete works of Albrecht Dürer in the collection of the Kupferstichkabinett will go online.

As part of a co-operative project between the Kupferstichkabinett and Institute of Art History at the Freie Universität Berlin, the German Research Foundation (DFG) is funding the digitalisation of some 1600 works by Dürer and followers in the collection.

The stock also includes an exceptional number of variants from a single printing plate or block on different kinds of paper and/or by a later hand.

Furthermore, the Kupferstichkabinett is one of the few graphic collections in the world to preserve some of Dürer’s actual wood blocks.

The digitalisation project will also make accessible such unique drawings as the 'Portrait of the Artist‘s Mother, Barbara Holper' (1514), the 'Drahtziehmühle' (wire drawing mill) (1494) and the 'Lobster with unusually large claws' (1495) via the museum’s database and online.

The quality of the digital images, produced in accordance with current standards and recommendations for cultural research data, makes intensive study and precise analysis of the originals possible in a way that does justice both to the interests of scholarship and the conservational conditions for the preservation of the works.

Digitalisation projects like this involve a team of art historians, conservatros, database staff, depot personnel and photographers in a workflow that ensures the gentle handling of the works of art.

The successive digitalisation of the inventory is part of the long-term open access strategy of the Stiftung Preußischer Kulturbesitz to make its extensive collections available world-wide to everyone on portals such as SMB-digital, Deutsche Digitale Bibliothek or Graphikportal.
Credits: Story

Text: Staatliche Museen zu Berlin - Stiftung Preußischer Kulturbesitz

Concept / Editing: Nadine Rottau
Translation: Catherine Hales, Stephan Schmidt

© Staatliche Museen zu Berlin – Stiftung Preußischer Kulturbesitz


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