The digital sphere has grown to encompass all aspects of life and now defines the sharing of information, learning, and culture. Knowledge seekers of any kind now enjoy direct access to art-historical scholarship and specific information on works of interest. The traditional core activities of a museum – collecting, researching, conservation, exhibiting, and knowledge dissemination – are being fundamentally redefined. That’s why, as a public institution, the Städel Museum has been working on expanding its digital content since 2012, to help take its educational mission and public engagement beyond the confines of its bricks-and-mortar museum building. All digital offerings from the Städel are available for free and provide unlimited, global access to a common cultural heritage. The Städel Museum’s collection comprises some 110,000 works. However, due to conservation requirements and the limitations of hanging space, only a fraction, a mere one percent, can be shown to the public in our exhibition galleries at any one time. The Digital Collection, on the other hand, offers users near-unlimited and user-friendly access to our holdings. As such, it is a perfect way to convey cultural content online in a viewing and reading environment customized to each user.
Just as each museum visit varies from visitor to visitor on any given day in real life, so does each virtual experience: The Digital Collection features an array of public-engagement and viewing options, allowing users with different interests to access the collection in different ways. Its purpose is to serve scholars with academic research interests as well as members of the general public by letting their curiosity guide them in exploring the collection at random. The user is invited to take a “digital stroll” (or even, depending on their preferred pace, a “digital jaunt”) through the collection from the comfort of their own home. The Digital Collection features zoomable, hi-res images, as well as key facts, curatorial texts, and video and audio on certain artworks. And on top of that, it also provides links to other related works of art and socially relevant themes from different epochs. This way, not only can visitors discover works by the same artist, or from the same period, but also works with similar subjects, similar pictorial motifs, or even a similar atmosphere, allowing them to learn, almost in passing, what Lucas Cranach’s Venus, painted in 1532, has to do, for instance, with Ernst Ludwig Kirchner’s Nude with Hat, painted some 500 years later.
Users can do more than search for a specific work they have already heard of. The Digital Collection also provides associative search results that appeal to our visual memory, thus making the leap from task-based searching to inspired finding. As well as being presented with obviously related finds, users also encounter unexpected ones, which, in turn, open up different virtual avenues or inroads into the collection and stimulate new questions on art. This entertaining approach aims to nudge users towards their own exploratory experience of virtually unpacking the collection’s holdings. Object pages they browse through along the way nonetheless feature more in-depth information, such as old attributions, technical analysis, or provenance history.
A vital feature of the Digital Collection is the clear, intuitive navigation between the various resources on the works of art from all collection areas. To this end, the platform is clearly divided into four areas: homepage, search-results page, object page, and artist page. The linking of content is based on complex keywording that uses established standards for the systematic digital cataloguing of content (authority records such as GND, AAT, AKL, and Iconclass). This is what distinguishes the Städel Museum’s Digital Collection from other online collections and lays the groundwork for collaborative interlinking and interchange with cross-collection platforms in the future.
Not only are the keywords displayed, they are also clickable. The searchable, tagged areas include, for example, pictorial motifs, technical summary, material data, artist, Iconclass, and iconographic source, but also atmosphere and emotional impact. In this way, an online visitor can also search for visual and aesthetic responses by using such emotive terms as “joyful”, “curiousintriguing”, “eerie”, or “longing”. This utilizes the inherent pliability of digital art collections, ordering the holdings to fit the user’s current intellectual or emotional interest. Accessing the collection online thus becomes an explorative experience as the user winds their way down its richly interconnected paths. A search entry never ends in a dead end, but rather inspires the further unravelling of our holdings.
A comprehensive, semantic search function was crucial in developing the Digital Collection. Not only is there is a constantly expanding number of searchable terms, but the complex search algorithm is also being continuously optimized. For example, you can decide to search by full-text, keyword, or historical period and then narrow down the list of results by applying various filters. The search function also features autocomplete (automatic word completion) and synonymous terms which make it easier to perform a targeted search, especially when users are unsure of spellings of foreign names and terms. Users can filter by category, by object type, by artist, pictorial motif, or by collection area or school. In addition, the so-called “Boolean operators” grant the visitor more defined search functions in specifying the selected filters with conditions such as “and”, “and not”, as well as “or”. These highly adaptable search options are not only an improvement for the virtual visitors of today, they are above all an investment in the future. For the more artworks come to be successively integrated into the Digital Collection across genres and epochs, the more important it will be to have targeted search options so that the desired results can be differentiated, allowing users to sift through them swiftly.
The Digital Collection lies at the heart the Städel Museum’s digital expansion programme and digital evolution. The digitization of our holdings began in 2013. Since then, some 26,000 works spanning 700 years of art history have been made accessible to virtual visitors. In addition to the approximately 1500 major works (mostly paintings) spanning all Städel departments, all hand-drawings, paintings, photographs, video art, and sculptures, as well as selected prints are gradually being digitally catalogued and keyworded. The Städel Museum has not only published its entire collection of Old Master paintings online, but has also given digital access to some 23,400 drawings, including thousands of Old Master drawings, as part of a project funded by the German Research Foundation (DFG). The digitization of modern and contemporary art continues apace.
Curious about what other digital offerings the Städel has to offer, in addition to its Digital Collection? Take a peek at our website to find out more!
The Digital Collection went live in English in November 2018. However, due to the sheer variety of different texts and technical as well as curatorial information, it has not been possible to provide all online resources in English. Wherever a translation is not yet available, the original German content is displayed in its place. This does not, however, generally affect the search function of the Digital Collection, and international online visitors can still search our collection using English search terms.
Since 2001, the Städel Museum has systematically been researching the provenance of all objects that were acquired during the National Socialist period, or that changed owners or could have changed owners during those years. The basis for this research is the “Washington Declaration”, also known as the “Washington Conference Principles”, formulated at the 1998 “Conference on Holocaust-Era Assets” and the subsequent “Joint Declaration”.
The provenance information is based on the sources researched at the time they were published digitally. However, this information can change at any time when new sources are discovered. Provenance research is therefore a continuous process and one that is updated at regular intervals.
Ideally, the provenance information documents an object’s origins from the time it was created until the date when it found its way into the collection. It contains the following details, provided they are known:
The successive ownership records are separated from each other by a semicolon.
Gaps in the record of a provenance are indicated by the placeholder “…”. Unsupported information is listed in square brackets.
If you have any questions or suggestions regarding the provenance of an artwork, please contact our Provenance Research Department directly.
The Städel Museum has made most of the public-domain works in its Digital Collection available for download for free under the Creative Commons license CC BY-SA 4.0. The licence allows all users to reproduce and share the public-domain images in any format, and to use, share, and remix them for any purpose, provided that the Städel Museum is credited (CC BY).
The SA (ShareAlike) requirement specifies that images may only be used and distributed under the identical terms. This means that any visual online resource altered by a user must, in turn, also be made available for use, sharing, and remixing by third parties, as long as they credit the Städel Museum and name the creative user, and license the new creation under the identical terms.
In the case of visual resources, please mark the image with the following information “CC BY-SA 4.0 Städel Museum, Frankfurt am Main” and don’t forget to link to the license: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0/deed.en.
The public-domain images can be downloaded directly from the relevant object page. Just click on the download icon below the image and agree to the license terms (CC BY-SA 4.0).
For images of copyrighted works or additional service and consulting, please contact the picture agency we partner with: bpk. They will be happy to assist you with any further advice. Please note: for copyrighted works additional fees apply.
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When using the image resources for academic publications at any level above graduate level, particularly in doctoral theses, we request that a sample copy or special print be sent to us.
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Metadata on the Städel Museum’s public-domain works is available to the public via an OAI interface. The metadata is available under the CC0 1.0 license and contains all relevant information and tags to the individual artworks. For licensing reasons, audio-guides and videos as well as curatorial texts on the artworks are not included.
The OAI interface features two different metadata formats: first, a significantly reduced compressed image format to assist in identifying the objects with Dublin Core, and, second, LIDO (Lightweight Information Describing Objects) for descriptive metadata. LIDO is an XML-based metadata format and harvesting schema developed by CIDOC (International Committee for Documentation), a working group of ICOM (International Council of Museums). It is intended to increase the global interoperability of museum metadata, allowing for a uniform output format in order to standardize data sharing and harvesting.
Can’t find your favourite work online? Please bear with us – we’re still in the process of digitizing our collection. Alternatively, why not write to us? We’ll no doubt be uploading your favourite artwork soon.
Digitization is a community project, which is why we’re grateful for external comments on a specific work, artist information, or suggestions about the Digital Collection in general.