Museum Trends: Large-scale Online Photo Archives

16DIGITIZE-COMBO-superJumboAn online art database aims to link works such as Hans Holbein the Younger’s 1527 portrait of Sir Thomas More (left) with similar pieces. Image from the New York Times Online.

Currently, the Frick Collection has around 20,000 boxes in storage, filled with folders of photographs that depict works of art. Typed pages of information accompany each photograph. More than 1 million individual works are documented in the collection. Instead of continuing the old analog system, the Frick Collection recently teamed up with fourteen other art institutions to create a union database that will eventually hold twenty-two million images from across the partners. Of that, seventeen million will be photographs of artworks, and the rest will be supplemental materials. The database, Pharos, is already in beta testing and can be accessed at

The intended audience for Pharos is art historians, but anyone can utilize the resource. Through the Pharos database, users will be able to see a work’s restoration history, previous ownership, and information about similar works that have been destroyed or lost.

The motivation for the project came from the fact that analog photographs cannot last forever, and museum officials are worried that certain pieces could disappear. The creators also acknowledge that younger art history scholars often start their research online and they don’t want the photos to become underutilized because they aren’t available digitally.

For more information about Pharos, please visit:

Amy Shirer ’18


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