Three new databases recently posted online

19/1/11 – Internet – Databases – These three databases, created respectively by the Thorvaldsen Museum, the Courtauld Institute and the Ville de Paris, were all posted in the last few months, the last one just a few days ago.

The Thorvaldesen Letter Archives : the goal of this ambitious project is to provide researchers with access to all of the archives at the Thorvaldsen Museum, that is essentially letters written or received by the sculptor.
The search on the website is particularly fruitful. Users can enter several criteria (name or nationality of the correspondent or the recipient of the letter, language or type of document…). The base also offers a very complete chronology, a search by subject (available only in Danish, alas) as well as an index listing names of persons with entries describing their relationship to Thorvaldsen. Again, these texts are in Danish only, but the Google translation tool is a convenient solution.

Started in 2010, this database has an extremely wealthy offering of information and should be completed in 2011. [Update : 24/10/11 : When publishing this article, we wrote : « While most of the transcriptions seem to well done, strangely enough a few are full of errors (see notably those on Georges-Philippe Clésinger’s letters : we find it hard to believe that the sculptor’s father wrote in this manner). This type of website would benefit even more by providing a photographic reproduction of the document alongside the transcription. » We recently received a letter from Ernst Jonas Bernard, Editor & Senior Research Fellow, The Berthel Thorvaldsen Letter Archives, who said : « M. Rykner suggest that the father of Auguste Clésinger could not have written with so many spelling errors. Since M. Rykner’s review we have been able to provide the transcriptions with facsimile scans of the letters, so now everyone can compare the original with the transcription. Of course M. Rykner’s remark compelled us to go through the Clésinger letters carefully, and we found that the spelling errors in the two letters are not due to the transcription, but caused by M. Clésinger’s original conception of the French language. » It is perfectly true, as can be seen from the originals.]

Gothic IvoriesGothic Ivories : Created by the Courtauld Institute, this catalogue seeks to give us a thorough listing, with all the necessary information for each object, of Gothic Ivories currently residing in either private or public collections. This project, in fact a continuation of Raymond Koechlin’s work published in 1924, Les ivoires gothiques français, which included 1300 works, has more extensive geographical coverage, and intends to eventually display about 4,.000 entries on ivories executed in Europe between 1200 and 1530 as well as modern imitations.

Users can search in a traditional way thanks to many different criteria but, regrettably, there is no index available. Such an aid would make it possible to find works one had not necessarily thought of looking for. A search without any criterion yields a total of 2.043 images corresponding to 749 objects, thus reflecting the current status of this database (which does not appear to be possible elsewhere).

Collections de la ville de ParisCollections of the Ville de Paris : The goal of this database is to eventually offer access to the city’s entire heritage of furnishings, be it in museums, churches, public buildings or works located in public spaces. Those familiar with the wealth of information held by the Conservation des objets d’art religieux et civiles (COARC), for example, now have it at their disposal online after awaiting it impatiently for some time.

However, the results are disappointing. First of all, because of the limited number of works listed (barely 10.000 entries of the over one million total, that is less than 1% of the collections). Without the Musée Carnavalet, which alone accounts for 792 entires, the base would be poor indeed. The Petit Palais represents only 57 works, Paris churches only 130 including twenty-five paintings (twenty-two of these are illustrated), a frustrating realization [1]. This might discourage users looking for a specific art work [2] as they might very well receive the following message : “Unsuccessful search !” Response time is frequently too long, probably due to the server’s lack of capacity, which can also be easily fixed.

However, it will be much more difficult to do anything about the fact that the database is not very user friendly. Patience is sure to run thin even before reaching the home page which takes a while to find and if the user does not have a direct link, it is also very hard to memorize the URL address ( or to go there from the page for the museums of the Ville de Paris (users should click on the icon at the top of the page “Expos Musées” then on the link “Consulter le portail” in the title “Les collections des musées de la ville se dévoilent en ligne”).
In the advanced and expert searches, use of the indexes is veritably impossible as they appear in alphabetical order with a list of only ten items at a time. Before reaching the end of the alphabet, one must go through dozens of pages (which are very slow to open). Careful attention is also needed in order not to confuse institutions and place where the work is held : if looking for a work at the Musée Carnavalet by entering Carnavalet in the field “Lieu de conservation”, there will be no result as it should be done in the field “Institutions”… Place held (confirmed in the index) concerns only churches where works are considered as deposited by the institution overseeing them (that is the COARC, Conservation des objets d’art religieux et civiles).
“Send this page” does not work, nor does the function “basket” which is supposed to allow users to save searches momentarily and it appears impossible also to copy a link leading to a specific entry. Quite obviously, this database was posted too quickly. We can only hope that it will soon improve if given the necessary means.

Didier Rykner, mercredi 19 janvier 2011


[1] Particularly since almost all of the documentation at the COARC has been digitized.

[2] For example, only one of the four corner pieces painted by Philippe de Champaigne in the chapel at the Sorbonne appears on the database (Saint Augustin).

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