Finding Information on Objects in the Metropolitan Museum of Art – Class Guide
FINDING INFORMATION ON OBJECTS IN THE METROPOLITAN MUSEUM OF ART – CLASS GUIDE
Class level: Basic
Class instructors: Robyn Fleming, Lisa Harms, Joan Jocson, John Lindaman, Dan Lipcan, Linda Seckelson, Deborah Vincelli, Renée Watson
Sources covered: eMuseum, The Metropolitan Museum of Art website, Collection Database, Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History, JSTOR, MMA Collection and Exhibition catalogs, Watsonline, Central Catalog, MediaBin, ARTstor.
Prelude: Accession numbers
The most basic piece of information about a Museum object, and the one that will probably be among the most useful to you as you conduct your research, is its accession number. Accession numbers are assigned when objects enter the collection, and have a specific format. Accession numbers are assigned in most museums, but the format and system are not standard or universal from museum to museum. Here at the Met, the first number refers to the year the object entered the collection, beginning in 1870 when the Museum was founded. At that time, the number sequence began with a two-digit value, so an object starting with the number 70 would indicate that the object came to the collection in 1870. Objects acquired between 1870 and 1969 have only two digits at the beginning; starting in 1970 accession numbers start with four digits. The second number, also known as the “lot number,” is based on the order in which the objects were received in a given year. The third number, if there is one, means that more than one object was received as part of the same lot. For example, the Morgan gift of 1917 contains thousands of objects. The gift itself is the 190th accession in 1917, so the objects in this gift all begin with 17.190, and range from 17.190.1 to 17.190.2155.
eMuseum – Intranet only
eMuseum is derived from TMS (“The Museum System”) which is the electronic system used to manage the Museum’s object records. eMuseum is comprised of selected fields of information from the object records in TMS. Not all of the Museum’s object records are in eMuseum. For the most part, only basic (aka “tombstone”) information is included in eMuseum. eMuseum is an excellent source for verifying known information about an object (e.g. title, artist, date, materials, classification, physical description, and department); occasionally there is more information in the form of notes. eMuseum also indicates whether or not the object is currently on display, and often includes an image. If you click on the “inclusion of records” link on the opening page of eMuseum, you will see a list of departments whose entire collections, or partial holdings, are included in eMuseum.
eMuseum has several important uses, aside from verification. It provides a way to search across the Museum’s collections for works in similar media, for depictions of a particular subject or theme, for all works by a given artist regardless of medium, or by credit line or donor. Keep in mind, though, that the information in eMuseum is based on the TMS records from each department, and since there is no standard vocabulary used cross-departmentally in the Museum (except for credit lines), you may have to try searching a few different ways to make sure you’re getting all the information possible.
eMuseum is accessible to staff and volunteers within the Museum, through the Museum’s Intranet. It is not available remotely – you cannot access it from home or outside the Museum’s IP range.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Website:
Another tool for finding object information is the Search function on the Museum’s website. This feature will allow you to quickly search across the Museum’s website for information about an object. There is a quick search box on the first page of the Museum’s website. If we enter the accession number for Bronzino’s “Portrait of a Young Man” (29.100.16), we see that it will bring up a results list which includes entries from the Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History, the Collection Database and the Features section of the website.
You can also perform a search in the Advanced Search mode. This mode gives you more flexibility with your search terms and indexes. For instance, let’s do a search with the word “Bronzino” and the exact phrase “Portrait of a Young Man”. We have the ability to limit our search to certain section of the Museum’s website. For this example, we will search the entire site. We see our search results are more extensive than in our previous accession number search. This results list includes additional entries under Special Exhibitions and Press Room (including the announcement of the Bronzino exhibit at the Museum.)
Advanced Search is also a good option for finding information about all works for which you don’t know the exact title or artist. Let’s do a search for a reliquary with scenes from the martyrdom of Saint Thomas Becket. You can simply search the word “reliquary” and the exact phrase “Thomas Becket”. We have results from the Timeline of Art History: one is an entry about the specific object; another is a thematic essay about relics and reliquaries in Medieval Christianity.
From the Home page of the Museum’s website, you will also find a link in the left-hand column to “Recent Acquisitions”. This link will bring you to a page where you can view the full-text PDF of the Museum’s Recent Acquisitions bulletins beginning with the 2002-2003 issue, as well as highlights of the Recent Acquisitions bulletins from 1998 to 2001.
The Collection Database is part of the Museum’s website, and is thus available to anyone from anywhere with an Internet connection. It contains information on approximately 150,000 Museum objects (out of the Museum’s 2+ million), but it is continually growing and entries are constantly updated. You can search the Collection Database by accession number, keyword, department, etc.. As with eMuseum, many entries contain an image of the object and the basic tombstone information about the object. However, the quality of the images in the Collection Database is higher than those in eMuseum, because you can zoom in and pan around.
If you are looking for information about an object in the European Paintings Department, or a nineteenth century European painting in the Department of Nineteenth Century, Modern and Contemporary Art (NCMC), you’re in luck because the Collection Database now has complete and updated records for all of these objects, including provenance, exhibition history, label copy, curatorial notes and bibliography.
Take a look at the entry for Duccio’s “Madonna and Child” (accession number 2004.442) by entering the accession number in the “Keyword(s)” field. You will have to click on the painting from the results list to get the full entry for it. Aside from the basic information to the right of the painting (information which you would also get by looking in eMuseum), below the painting are links for the Gallery Label text, Notes, Provenance, Exhibition History (which includes references to published exhibition catalogs), and References. Note that once you find a citation in the References section that you are interested in, you can then take that information and search for the publication in Watsonline.
For European Paintings and nineteenth century European paintings in the NCMC Department, the Collection Database should be your first go-to source for all that can be provided on the work — the bibliography is being updated and new information is loaded on a daily basis.
Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History
The Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History is a chronological, geographical, and thematic exploration of the history of art from around the world, as illustrated by the Met’s collection. It includes timelines that provide a linear outline of art history; thematic essays that focus on specific themes in art history; entries on over 6000 works of art from the Met’s collection; and indexes of chronology, geography, theme and subject. It is a robust resource for anyone interested in the study of art history.
For the purpose of this class, we will focus on object information in the Timeline. From the Works of Art page, you can browse by time period, geographic region or thematic category. You can also search by title of the work (example: ”Hours of Jeanne d’Evreux”), artist (example: ”Pucelle”), materials and technique (example: “lacquer”), credit line (example: “Catharine Lorillard Wolfe”) and accession number.
You can also browse by one of the indexes - subject, artist or list of rulers. If we look up Bronzino under the artist index, you will see a list of all works of art and thematic essays available on the Timeline.
From the Works of Art page, let’s conduct a search for “The Hours of Jeanne d’Evreux” by Jean Pucelle. Searching for the word “Hours” in the Title field retrieves our object. The results screen displays a table with relevant information about the object. Clicking on the image or the title will bring us to the Object Page where we will find a larger image, a description and a wide range of related content at the bottom of the page. The related content includes maps, timelines, thematic essays, index terms, an artist biography and a technical glossary. Notice that this page also contains information on how to properly cite the page in a bibliographical reference.
If a Met object, such as “The Hours of Jeanne d’Evreux”, has been published in the Museum’s Bulletin or Journal, those articles will be listed at the bottom of the object page. In addition, if the articles listed are available in full-text on JSTOR, you will be able to access them directly using the JSTOR and PDF links underneath the citations. The JSTOR link will only work if you are within the Museum. If you are outside the Museum, you can access the article using the PDF link. The first citation does not link to JSTOR because it is from 2008 and is too recent to be included in JSTOR. However, you can find this article in print at the Watson or Nolen Libraries.
The bibliography feature on the Timeline is another valuable resource for finding information about Museum objects. It is comprised of nearly 2,000 Met publications since 1964. You can browse the bibliography by thematic category, department, author, title, year of publication and publication type. For example, if you wanted to browse all collection and exhibition catalogs published by the Medieval department since 1964, you would simply click on the Medieval Art link under department. The list is arranged alphabetically by title. Clicking on any of the entries will expand to include a brief description of the publication and related Timeline content, if there is any. If the entry is a Met Bulletin or Journal article that is available in full-text on JSTOR, you can click through to the article by using the JSTOR or PDF link.
JSTOR (Journal Storage) is an online multidisciplinary archive of periodical titles, providing access to the entire content of archived journals including text and images. You can access it from any computer within the Museum. You can get to JSTOR by searching WATSONLINE for JSTOR as a title, doing a search for JSTOR on the library portal, or searching the e-resources A-Z list on the library portal. You may access JSTOR from outside the Museum if you are a current Museum staff member or volunteer with a library account.
You can browse the collection of titles by title, discipline, or publisher.
JSTOR includes the Met Bulletin from 1905-2006, the Met Journal from 1968–2006 and Metropolitan Museum Studies from 1928–1936. There are stand-alone issues of Notable Acquisitions (1965-1985) and Recent Acquisitions (1985-1988) available as well. The articles in these publications are keyword searchable. Because JSTOR includes the scanned pages of each entire volume, you can view the pages as if you were browsing the print copy. This includes all images and any other content, such as captions and advertisements. Keep in mind that not all Bulletin articles include accession numbers.
Let’s search for a few Museum objects. There are several different ways to search in JSTOR: Basic, Advanced and Citation Locator. If we look at the Basic Search screen, we see just one search box. You can limit your search to a certain discipline (but not a journal title) or you can choose from a recent search at the bottom of the screen. Basic Search is a good choice if you want to search for information about an artist or object all art and art history publications.
If we type in the keywords “reliquary” and ”Thomas Becket”, we see that we get 44 results. We can use the Page of First Match feature to find the first place in the article where our search terms appear. If we take a look at the Gesta article by Thomas Hoving, we see another example of a useful JSTOR tool, Reference Linking. If we go to the Notes section of this article, we see a red arrow next to the second note. If we hover our mouse over that arrow, a message box pops up with information to a linked article that you can access full-text in JSTOR by clicking on it. Keep in mind that not every article available in JSTOR is reference linked.
However, if we are searching a specific title, such as the Museum Bulletin, we can Browse by title and choose the Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin. From this screen you can use the “Search this Title” box. In this box, you can enter the author’s name, keywords about the article (such as the artist or object name), or the accession number.
The Advanced Search screen accommodates virtually every kind of searching in JSTOR. Let’s search for the Giovanni di Paolo’s “Creation of the World and the Expulsion from Paradise”. We’ll search by the accession number 1975.1.31. We can put that number in the first search box, limit our search to Art and Art History titles and then Search. We retrieve five articles. Click on the title to browse either article. You can then click the arrows on either side of the page to navigate. To print this article, click on the PDF link. This will open the article in Adobe Reader. Use the printer icon in Adobe to print. You can also download an article to your own computer by using the save icon.
The Advanced Search screen gives you more flexibility with your search options. If we wanted to find an article written by Walter Liedtke about Rembrandt, we can enter Liedtke in the first search box and indicate that we are searching for his name as author. We can also enter Vermeer as a search in Full-text and at the bottom of the screen indicate that we only want to search in Art and Art History journals.
You could also use the Advanced Search to browse for articles about works by a particular artist. By using the artist’s name as a keyword and searching only the Met Journal and Bulletin, you may find articles about objects in the Museum by that artist. For example, let’s do a search on the keywords “Walker Evans”, using the quotes to indicate that we are searching an exact phrase, only in the Met Museum publications. Again, I would recommend using the Page of First Match feature to navigate through each article.
For more information on searching JSTOR, click here.
MMA Collection Catalogs
The Metropolitan Museum of Art has published many comprehensive print catalogues of its important collections throughout the years, and these can be invaluable sources for information on particular objects – including provenance, bibliography, and exhibition history. Exhibition catalogs also often contain the same types of information, although exhibition catalogs may include non-Met objects as well. Even if you find good information in the Collection Database on an object, these catalogs should still be consulted, because the entries may be more extensive than what is in the Collection Database.
Remember that the credit line associated with an object sometimes indicates a named collection that has been gifted to the museum, and often there are catalogs describing items in the collection. Some examples are the 14 volumes describing parts of the Robert Lehman collection, and the Masterpieces of Impressionism and Post-Impressionism describing the Annenberg collection.
Another critical print resource for information on Met objects is The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin. Sometimes Bulletinissues even focus on a particular artist or work of art — maybe even the one you’re researching. In addition to the print copies available in Watson and Nolen Libraries, most of the Bulletinscan also be found online through JSTOR. Nolen and Watson Libraries each also have a list of single-subject Bulletins which is organized by curatorial department or subject area.
Finding exhibition and collection catalogs is not always easy. Some pointers:
- Browse shelves. Watson Library has a section for collection catalogs, organized by curatorial department, near the Reference Desk ; Nolen Library has collection catalogs in its Reference section. Often the titles of these catalogs will indicate whether the object you are researching might be included. Both libraries have important exhibition catalogs, and both have print copies of the Bulletin and Journal.
- Search Watsonline by artist or keywords associated with the object.
- Refer to the bibliography section of the Timeline of Art History mentioned before and search for catalogs by department or other criteria.
- Ask a Reference Librarian for help.
Watsonline is the online catalog for the Museum’s libraries, and is accessible via the Internet, from anywhere, any time. Watsonline contains information about books and journals; it is not an object database like eMuseum or the Collection Database.
One of the most effective ways to find information about works of art, their context, and their significance, is to find books about the artist. Most books in the libraries’ collections have subject headings attached to their catalog records, so if the artist in question is the major subject of the book, it is very simple to find material if it is in one of the Museum’s libraries. To do this, you would use the subject search (select “Subject” from the drop-down menu on the left) and enter your artist’s name.
For example, if you are interested in finding more about Jean Pucelle’s “The Hours of Jeanne d’Evreux” up in the Cloisters, you might want to find books about Jean Pucelle in general. So we will select “Subject” from the list and type in “Pucelle.” (If you’re searching for an artist with a common last name, you will have to enter the Last Name first, and then the First Name). We retrieve a total of 15 citations, which you can click on to find out more information about the book. By locating these items in the library and browsing through them, not only will you be likely to find something on “The Hours of Jeanne d’Evreux” in these books, you also probably find valuable bibliographies in at least some of these publications, giving you additional references to pursue to enhance your understanding of Pucelle and his work.
If the object does not have a named artist, or even if it does, you can search by keywords associated with the object that refer to description, period, culture, or material. The keyword search “sien* painting metropolitan“ looks for books with the words Siena or Sienese and painting and metropolitan (Metropolitan Museum will usually appear in the publisher or author of MMA collection and exhibition catalogs).
If you have not been successful in finding object information with bibliography by now, you should try the Central Catalog. The Central Catalog is, in a sense, the Museum’s original attempt to provide object information to researchers.
The Central Catalog is literally a room in the basement of the Museum filled with catalog cards containing object information, which were sent down over the years by curatorial departments. These cards contain tombstone information and usually a photograph of the object, but sometimes they also include bibliographical references, notes, exhibition history, condition information, and provenance. As this has been done with varying degrees of accuracy and completeness over the life of the Museum, the amount of information on the cards varies widely from object to object and department to department; some will have only a single card with the basic information (title, material, culture, dimensions, etc.), while others will have a stack of cards several inches thick with annotated bibliographical information. The amount can depend on how “famous” the object is, as well as how recently the object was acquired. As departments began entering information into their own, separate, departmental databases starting in the 1990′s, they sent fewer and fewer cards to the Central Catalog, and now, no more cards are sent there. All up-to-date object information currently resides in the TMS (“The Museum System”) database, which itself is not available to the public.
Aside from the group of objects covered in full in the Collection Database, the Central Catalog is the only accessible repository of information to include references. The easiest way to get information is to email email@example.com with the accession number and a brief description of the object(s) you’re researching. Central Catalog staff will scan the cards on your object and will email them to you directly — usually within one week, though it could take longer if information on multiple objects is requested. Before you email Central Catalog, ask the Reference Librarian whether there is an existing scan of cards for your object – which could then be printed. If necessary, an appointment can be made by email to visit Central Catalog.
Note that Central Catalog does not have any information for objects from Egyptian, Lehman, Photographs, objects from Greek and Roman acquired since 1972, or on prints from the Department of Drawings and Prints.
ARTstor is an image collection database. You can use this database to search for images from many different institutions, but we will specifically focus on the images of Met objects contributed by the Met. There are 8,777 images from the Met. A quick way to find images of Met objects (contributed by the Met) is to use the Advanced Search feature. From this search box, you can enter the artist’s name “In Creator Only” (or the title of the work in “In Title Only”) and “Metropolitan Museum” “In Any Field”. Vermeer as an example, we see images of all five of the Met’s Vermeers. You can learn more about using ARTstor by using our class guide.
MediaBin, the central repository for the Museum’s image assets, is a tool to facilitate access by staff to digital images of works of art in the collection, special exhibition materials, and other digital assets, as needed for work purposes. Records in MediaBin contain all or some of the following metadata: object, image, and rights and restrictions. With some exceptions, the object information and some rights information about works of art in the Museum’s collection is drawn from corresponding fields in the TMS databases of the Museum’s curatorial departments. As curatorial departments update their records, the changes will be reflected in the MediaBin object placeholder records and the linked image records for that object. Some of the information in TMS is unedited or incomplete, and all TMS information is subject to change according to ongoing research and new acquisitions. The Digital Media department will directly catalogue some types of images in MediaBin, such as group shots, non-object holdings of the Museum, installation photography, and special exhibition materials. This ongoing cataloguing will be done in accordance with accepted practices and drawn from reliable sources but it will not be automatically updated from TMS or any other database. All object information may be used by Museum staff for reference and research purposes. If it is to be used in any other context, including electronic and written publication, it too must be vetted by the curatorial departments and reviewed according to accepted Museum procedures.
The Quick Search option in MediaBin searches the following object fields: maker, title and the object name. Bear in mind that Quick Search uses the containsoperator so it is not an exact search. Use the Advanced Search option for precise and exact fielded searches. MediaBin does not contain bibliographic information or indicate whether an object is currently on view in the Museum.
For further information about training or specific questions about using MediaBin, staff can contact the Digital Media department via email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or at ext. 3130. A training manual is also available in the Help menu within MediaBin or via the Intranet under Information and Resources.
For more class guides from Watson Library, click here.
17.190.520 Reliquary Casket with Scenes from the Martyrdom of Saint Thomas Becket
19.164 The Harvesters Pieter Brueghel the Elder
2004.442 Madonna and Child Duccio di Buoninsegna
29.100.16 Portrait of a Young Man Agnolo Bronzino
54.1.2 The Hours of Jeanne d’Evreux Jean Pucelle
1975.1.31 The Creation of the World and the Expulsion from Paradise, Giovanni di Paolo
Last updated March 11, 2010 RW and DV