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State of the Commons: OpenGLAM highlights & what the future holds

Sarah Stierch - November 21, 2014 in Featured, News

In this blog (cross-posted from her blog The Culture Feed) Sarah Stierch discusses some of the OpenGLAM highlights in the recently published Creative Commons report ‘State of the Commons’, as well as some suggested future steps.

“Creative Commons’ goal has always been “realizing the full potential of the internet,” with greater access for everyone to culture, knowledge, information, and education.”
(Image: CC BY 4.0)

(Image: CC BY 4.0)

I was very happy to wake up this morning to discover that Creative Commons (CC) had published the State of the Commons report. While reading through the report and exploring the colorful infograph, I found myself getting very emotional about the shift in culture that has taken place since the inception of CC, and their open option to copyright, 12 years ago.

Freemedia fighters

The past five years has seen an uptick of cultural heritage institutions opening up their digitized works, with the inception of the GLAM-Wiki movement and OpenGLAM initiative. Freemedia fighters from within institutions and from the outside have made it our mission to enable the public access and to artwork, objects, film and writing. A small crop of contemporary artists have begun to explore it as well (most recently, Danish artist Filip Vest and the Hack the Bells contest). I can’t even imagine copyrighting my own work anymore, as a writer, public speaker or as a photographer, and perhaps that is my ego believing freedom is a more satisfying legacy (versus restrictive ownership).

OpenGLAM Highlights

There are a few highlights that I think can be attributed to the work we are doing in the OpenGLAM community:

  • In 2006, 50 million works were CC licensed/CC0. Today, over 882 million works are CC licensed/CC0. That number will continue to increase as we continue our efforts to open up more cultural heritage material and provide improved resources to the public about how the Commons works and why free licensing is so important.
  • The trend is moving towards free culture licenses. About 56% of those works are free culture licenses, meaning it will end up on Wikimedia Commons to be used in Wikipedia articles and can be adapted and used for commercial use. More restrictive licenses (non-commercial, no-derivatives, etc.) fail the mission of open culture and, in my opinion, are the last vestiges of copyleft imperialism.
  • The USA and Europe lead the way in open licensing, which is no surprise given that open licensing advocacy groups involved in OpenGLAM are primarily headquartered in both the USA and Europe (i.e. Creative Commons, Wikimedia, Open Knowledge Foundation, Europeana). We need to provide more multi-language resources and support to empower our brothers and sisters fighting restriction around the world.
I have used this awesome cheshire cat toy image in many presentations about OpenGLAM. It's a gem and was freed to the Commons in 2011. A Cheshire cat toy from the Children's Museum of Indianapolis, CC BY SA 3.0

I have used this awesome cheshire cat toy image in many presentations about OpenGLAM. It’s a gem and was freed to the Commons in 2011. (Children’s Museum of Indianapolis, CC BY SA 3.0)

What the future holds and needs

We have lofty dreams, or at least, I do. A dream where all public domain material that is locked up under image rights fees and faux-copyright claims are truly free; where all cultural institutions release their metadata CC0, and where artists are not scared of being starving artists or losing control of their creativity by releasing their works under free culture licensing. But enough about my dreams, here are a few ideas on where I think “we” need to move next:

  • Multi-lingual outreach, without over stepping it: we don’t want to be seen as imperialists moving into a country to demand they give it all up to the Commons and we’ll show them how to do it because their people aren’t capable of doing it on their own (especially given the Anglocentric nature of where the most Commons impact has been made, thus far). We need to create more multi-lingual multi-cultural resources, tools, and events that empower people – workshops not just lectures – throughout the world.
  • More FREE workshops and conference activities: these are key component to getting people engaged and empowered. The OpenGLAM US Workshop was a hit with participants, and led to further understanding and internal buy-in within many of the institutions represented. We need to keep these programs free, we need to keep them accessible, and at times, localized. We also need more booths/tables at conferences – lectures and panels are just the beginning. Keeping things free provides accessibility and doesn’t just empower the “GLAMs with lots of money”.
  • We need more investment – financially from institutions and organizations. While the idea of volunteers being the people power behind openness is romantic, the movement won’t be able to survive. We need more financial investment (and in-kind) from foundations, organizations, and individuals. Money funds the hiring of people (I like that idea!) and paid internships, events, attendance scholarships, evaluation, technology, etc.
  • More case studies: as the old proverb goes, “the proof is in the pudding“. Without more case studies, blogs and data about what has been released to the Commons we won’t be convincing more people to contribute. Here in the US, case studies are a critical component to getting institutional buy-in – from boards, curators, librarians, executive directors, etc. It’s lovely that your organization has openly licensed tons of pictures of paintings, but what impact has that made and what has been learned from it? Evaluation – with successes and failures – is an important tool to making more people jump into the Commons boat.
  • I use this image as my computer wallpaper. It was released into Flickr Commons under a "no known copyright restriction" license by Archives of the Finnish Broadcasting Company Yle. This makes it a part of the broader Commons, but, it was not included in the CC report.

    I use this image as my computer wallpaper. It was released into Flickr Commons under a “no known copyright restriction” license by Archives of the Finnish Broadcasting Company Yle. This makes it a part of the broader Commons, but, it was not included in the CC report.

    See where “no known copyright restriction” fits into this report. You can read more about this “faux license” here. It’s used to release media where the institutional holding it has done it’s fair share of research (or so they claim) to figure out the copyright status of the image and no one can figure it out, so it enters free licensing purgatory. I’d love to see more research around this – how to crowdsource licensing status and how this “license” fits into the State of the Commons.

The State of the Commons will continue to improve and grow as more people are empowered, engaged and inspired. Let’s get to work.

What other successes, challenges and next steps do you foresee for the OpenGLAM Commons? Share your thoughts below.

Armenians and Armenian Photographers in the Ottoman Empire

Julia Grimes - November 7, 2014 in Curator's Choice, Featured, Public Domain


Julia Grimes, research assistant at the Getty Research Institute, introduces a fascinating selection of images from the Pierre de Gigord Collection detailing Armenian life in the 19th-century Ottoman Empire, many from the studio of Armenian photographers Pascal Sebah and the Abdullah Frères.

Benefiting from the continued generosity of French photograph collector Pierre de Gigord, the Getty Research Institute (GRI) has assembled an extensive collection of images documenting the 19th-century Ottoman Empire, specifically the area which we know now as Turkey. A growing number of these photographs depict the Armenian community within the empire, representing religious leaders, families, and individuals in full ethnic dress. Besides those living in Constantinople (present-day Istanbul), the Ottoman capital and location of the major photographic studios, certain images also record details of life in other cities, including valuable views of their Armenian quarters.

J. Pascal Sebah (Armenian, 1823-1886), Armenian Patriarch, ca. 1880.
Los Angeles, Getty Research Institute (96.R.14, Box 80)

J. Pascal Sebah (Armenian, 1823-1886), Armenian Family, ca. 1880. Los Angeles, Getty Research Institute (96.R.14, Box 80)


Photographie Tchamlidjian [Studio] (Armenian, active ca. 1880), Group of Armenian Men in Checkered Jackets, 1883. Los Angeles, Getty Research Institute (96.R.14, Box 69)

Guillaume Berggren (Swedish, 1835-1920), Entry to the Main Street of Pera, ca. 1870. Los Angeles, Getty Research Institute (2008.R.3, No. 3547)

Perhaps the most fascinating aspect of the Gigord collection is the number of images taken by Armenian photographers. Due to the frequent employment of Armenians as chemists, goldsmiths, and pharmacists, many possessed the skills necessary for photography, in particular a thorough knowledge of the chemical processes used in development. During the late-nineteenth century, some of the principal studios in Constantinople were owned and operated by photographers of Armenian descent. Pascal Sebah, for instance, opened his “El Chark” studio in 1857, and by 1873 had achieved such success with his elegant, crisply detailed portraits that he opened a second branch in Cairo, Egypt. By the time of his death thirteen years later, his name had become synonymous with studio photography in Constantinople to the extent that his studio remained active and the new managing partner, Polycarpe Joaillier, changed its name to “Sebah and Joaillier.” The business continued to prosper and achieve renown, even adding Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany to its list of clientele in 1889 during his visit to Constantinople.

A portrait of two Armenian men in full dress taken circa 1875 reveals Sebah’s mastery of both the technical aspects of photography and its use as an artistic medium. The men’s formal poses show off their wide trousers, scarves, and hats, aspects of traditional Armenian costume that would have immediately triggered recognition among viewers. Their expressions match the dignity of their posture. This is a posed studio photograph, likely staged by Sebah and his assistants to portray these men as a “type,” or as representatives of the Armenian ethnic group to which he also belonged. The control of tonalities, or the manner in which the sepia color of the photograph varies from light to dark, expressing areas of illumination and shadow, is among the qualities which most clearly signals Sebah’s skill as an artist.

J. Pascal Sebah (Armenian, 1823-1886), Armenian Men, ca. 1875. Los Angeles, Getty Research Institute (96.R.14, Box 77)

Similar control of composition and tonality is visible in Sebah’s album, Les costumes populaires de la Turquie en 1873, commissioned by Ottoman diplomat, artist, and founder of Istanbul’s Academy of Fine Arts, Osman Hamdi Bey. In seeking a photographer to depict the peoples of the Ottoman Empire for the 1873 International Exposition in Vienna, Osman Hamdi Bey chose Sebah due to the refined elegance of his style. The image of an Armenian bride, the central figure in Plate V, captures this quality with the manner in which the dangling tassels, necklace, and gold pattern of the bride’s costume catch the light, contrasting with the delicate lace of her veil.

J. Pascal Sebah (Armenian, 1823-1886), Constantinople: Armenian Bride. From Osman Hamdi Bey (Turkish, 1842-1910), Les costumes populaires de la Turquie en 1873: ouvrage publié sous le patronage de la Commission impériale ottomane pour l’Exposition universelle de Vienne. Los Angeles, Getty Research Institute (96.R.14, Box 139)

The high standards set by Pascal Sebah remained a hallmark of his studio, even after his death. The 1894 Sebah and Joaillier image of the Armenian Quarter in Brousse, located across the Sea of Marmara from Istanbul, for instance, presents an unusual view taken up a hill. As in the image of the two Armenian men, the mastery of tonalities for which Sebah’s studio was known is again on display. The bright midday sun posed a challenge, since it could easily wash out the details of gestures, faces, and objects, but the photographer deftly dealt with this issue by positioning the small child to the right of the road underneath the last in a row of trees, allowing the shadows to compensate for the glare. Close inspection reveals that each person in the image has been placed in the shade, either of the trees or of the two-story buildings on the opposite side of the road.

Sebah & Joaillier [Studio] (Armenian, active 1890-1940s), Brousse: Armenian Quarter, 1894. Los Angeles, Getty Research Institute (96.R.14, Box 70)

The “Abdullah Frères” studio, run by three brothers of Armenian descent, opened in 1858 and quickly became so honored for its technical skills and artistry that just five years later the brothers were named royal photographers to the Ottoman Sultan. In 1867, they exhibited their 220 cm-long panorama of Constantinople at the second International Exposition held in Paris, moving beyond the studio to prove their equal ability as landscape photographers internationally. They hosted a distinguished clientele during these years, photographing Edward, the Prince of Wales, during his visit to Turkey, and Eugénie, the Empress of France. By 1886, their fame had spread as far as Egypt, and at the personal request of the Khedive (Viceroy) there, they also opened a branch in Cairo which lasted for the next decade. Interestingly enough, their Constantinople studio merged with that of Pascal Sebah when Abdullah Frères sold it to Sebah and Joaillier in 1900.

The Abdullah Frères excelled at capturing landscapes, “types,” and scenes of daily life in the major metropolises of the Ottoman Empire. Their photograph of the Galata Bridge, the bridge spanning the Golden Horn in Constantinople and one of the city’s principal landmarks, is remarkable for its view of the Old City. As minarets soar in the distance, the blurred images of boats in the middle ground suggest a bustling site of commerce, an urban landscape where the traditional meets the modern in dynamic patterns of exchange.

Abdullah Frères [Studio] (Armenian, active 1850s-1900), Galata Bridge. From Abdullah Frères, O.H. [Views], 1875-1880, 1884. Los Angeles, Getty Research Institute (96.R.14, A10)

A set of five studio photographs depicting a porter and varied types of street vendors stages a similar interchange, for although the men’s occupations are traditional, they are now being represented using the contemporary medium and conventions of photography, including backdrops, studio lighting, and carefully choreographed poses.

Sebah & Joaillier [Studio] (Armenian, active 1890-1940s), Porter and Street Vendors. From Abdullah Frères, O.H. [Views], 1875-1880, 1884. Los Angeles, Getty Research Institute (96.R.14, A10)

Less rigorously staged, yet full of energy, is the Abdullah Frères image of a fire brigade in Constantinople. Due to the age and proximity of many structures, along with the extensive use of wooden timbers in construction, the city lived under constant threat of fire, and firefighters thus held a significant role in the community. By dedicating an album page to them specifically, the Abdullah Frères recognized their importance to civic life, simultaneously displaying the preparedness and modernity of Constantinople’s municipal services.

Abdullah Frères [Studio] (Armenian, active 1850s-1900), Fire Brigade. From Turquie, 1880. Los Angeles, Getty Research Institute (96.R.14, A25)

These brief examples reveal only a fraction of the extent of Armenian involvement in photography during the late-nineteenth century. There were dozens of other Armenians working not only in Ottoman lands but in Eastern Europe and Central Asia whose legacy still remains to be explored. As the number of images from the Gigord Collection available in the Getty’s digital collections continues to grow, it is our hope that information about this remarkable historical link between the Armenian community and photography in that era will become more widely accessible, and that fresh discoveries will continue to be made. The history of photography is a relatively new discipline, and this chapter is still being written.

Julia Grimes is completing her Ph.D. in Chinese modern and contemporary art at the University of California, Los Angeles. She has been a research assistant at the Getty Research Institute since 2010.

Explore more photographs from the Pierre Gigord collection over at the Getty Research Institute site. There are more than a hundred images in their Open Content Program and more than 30 albums available through their “Rosetta” database (click on link in top right corner to get access to albums).

This post is part of our Curator’s Choice series, a monthly feature consisting of a guest article from a curator about a work or group of works in one of their “open” digital collections. Learn more here. See this post in all its full page width glory over at The Public Domain Review.

MUSE Awards open for submissions

Lieke Ploeger - November 6, 2014 in Contest, Featured

Each year, the American Alliance of Museums (AAM) organises the Muse Awards to recognize inspiring and outstanding digital media projects in the Galleries, Libraries, Archives and Museums (GLAM) sector. Institutions or independent producers who use digital media to enhance the GLAM experience and engage audiences are invited to apply, within various categories such as Applications and APIs, Mobile applications and Multimedia installations.


Especially interesting for OpenGLAM is the award category ‘Open’ (which was first added last year) that celebrates and showcases projects by or for GLAMs that have made use of open data and content. The following entries are accepted:

Entries are projects created by or for* GLAMS celebrating the ever growing bounty of innovative projects created in the open environment. Projects can include both front-end and back-end innovations. Projects must demonstrate how open data/content was used and the product created.
*By or For: This award can be submitted by anyone working with open data in the GLAM environment. We encourage anyone to submit projects that contribute to our larger mission to engage and education our community and to allow our repositories of global cultural heritage more to be more accessible and equitable for reuse.

GLAMs of any size, discipline and country are eligible to submit: the deadline for submissions is 23 February 2015.  The winners for each category will be presented at the 2015 AAM Annual Meeting & MuseumExpo (26-29 April, Atlanta). More information on the awards and the submission process is available from the AAM website.

Harvard Library lifts copyright restrictions on public domain works

Lieke Ploeger - October 23, 2014 in Featured, News

oaweek2014-600x60As part of the international Open Access Week (20-26 October), Harvard Library shared great news on their new policy on the use of digital reproductions of public domain works. From now on, the library will make such reproductions openly available online and treat them as objects in the public domain. This means that users will be able to reuse this content in any way they want, without any restrictions: Harvard Library does not charge for permission to use those reproductions, and it does not grant or deny permission to publish or otherwise distribute such images.

Harvard Library expects that this new policy will stimulate the use and reuse of digitized content for research, teaching, learning, and creative activities, which supports their mission of advancing scholarship and teaching by committing to the creation, application, preservation, and dissemination of knowledge. Sarah E. Thomas, Vice President for the Harvard Library and the Roy E. Larsen Librarian of Harvard College, states:

“We have already been using the digitization of Harvard’s collections as a means of enhancing access for Harvard’s students and faculty. Now we are seeking to share Harvard’s unparalleled collections with the rest of the world in ways that will foster new creativity.”

This is great news for OpenGLAM and we hope this can be an inspiring example for other institutions. The full policy can be read here: Harvard Library will announce other news related through Open Access Week on this page.

Open Rubens – the new and improved Rubens Online

Joris Janssens - October 14, 2014 in Case Studies, Featured, Guest Blog Post

This is a guest blog post about the Open Rubens platform written by Joris Janssens of Packed, one of the partners of the Europeana Space (eSpace) project. Open Rubens won the public prize during the competition 2013. PACKED is a centre of expertise in digital heritage and promotes the use of standards for the creation, preservation and online dissemination of cultural heritage content.

In 2004 the Rubenianum, a centre dedicated to the study of Rubens, developed the Rubens Online website, which holds information on all works by the Flemish baroque painter Peter Paul Rubens whiopenrubens1ch have been or are present in Belgian public collections. The website is a product of its time and we could nowadays easily present the collection in some refreshing manner without much effort. Since the Rubens Online dataset was available under an open license ( we used it create some new ways to explore this collection. You can find the result at

You can browse the collection through:

1) Some random images which are loaded from the dataset. If you click on an image you get a detail view of the work.

openrubens22) Since there was geographical information in the data we could show all the works on a map and if a work has been in different locations we can track these movements.

openrubens33) A timeline shows the works in the collection in a chronological order

Timeline using timeline js

Timeline using timeline js

On the detail page we added some social sharing functionality, the possibility to add tags to the images and to add comments.

Most of the images are available in a low resolution: we therefore implemented the functionality to do a Google Image search for similar images, in the hope of finding some higher resolutions. Since the works are public domain, even a larger resolution should not fall under copyright. This however could be different from country to country.


Google Image search with different sizes

In addition to the Rubens Online dataset the detail page of a work shows some results from a search by title using the Europeana API. This however does not always provide nice results: sometimes because their just isn’t any relevant content to show, but also because searching and filtering is a bit limited – which will hopefully improve in a future version of the Europeana API.

Results from Europeana search

Results from Europeana search

Open Rubens was submitted for of the competition 2013, where it won the public price.

Open Knowledge Foundation joins Europeana Space

Marieke Guy - October 14, 2014 in Featured, News, Projects

This blog (cross-posted from the eSpace blog) introduces the work that Open Knowledge will perform within the Europeana Space project. Open Knowledge will be cooperating on WP3 – The Content Space and provide support and tools about the possibility of re-use of public domain and open content.


The aim of the Europeana Space project is to create new opportunities for employment and economic growth within the creative industries sector based on Europe’s rich digital cultural resources. It will provide an open environment for the development of applications and services based on digital cultural content. The use of this environment will be fostered by a vigorous, wide-ranging and sustainable programme of promotion, dissemination and replication of the Best Practices developed within the project.

Open Knowledge will be providing a ‘Knowledge Base’ on ‘Open Content Exchange’ known as the ‘OpenContent Exchange Platform’ for the Content Space. This platform will comprise of collated public domain and open content materials related to the value of digital public domain and best practices around open licensing. One particular area of focus will be the monetising of Europeana open content by creative industries and the challenges this poses related to IPR.

The OpenContent Exchange Platform will help answer, in an accessible, user-friendly way, the question “What would those working in creative industries want to know or to happen to enable them to reuse Europeana content?”. Questions from those working in creative industries may include:

  • What is the license of the content? What does the license mean? What can I do with the content? Can I make money from this content?
  • Do licence rules for what I can do differ by country? Do licence rules vary for the type of content I want to use? Are there differences between the licence for physical work or a digital work?
  • How do label my own content correctly? What is rights labelling?
  • Is IPR content embedded within content? What technical standards are there around embedding IPR content?
  • How can I get legal advice on IPR issues? How can I get content cleared to reuse?

It is anticipated that results from the platform will inform further research and policy making in the cultural heritage sphere, specifically around business models for open cultural content. Any poorly covered areas in the currently available materials will be identified with the intention of ‘filling in the gaps’.

Handing over a book from the Institut für Realienkunde. This image is Public Domain marked and available on Europeana portal.

Handing over a book from the Institut für Realienkunde. This image is Public Domain marked and available through the Europeana portal.

The OpenContent Exchange Platform will be an online, publicly accessible platform consisting of:

  • Links to open content to be made available through the exchange platform both from     partners of the Europeana Space project and from the wider cultural heritage community;
  • Blog posts and articles on open content being provided by Europeana Space partners     and the wider cultural heritage sphere presenting this material thematically and in a highly curated way to maximise interest in it;
  • Documentation on open licensing for both suppliers and users of open content so that     both parties fully understand the technical and legal implications of their work and make best use of its open character;
  • Materials on the re-use of openly licensed materials targeted at the creative industry, including manuals on how to source public domain works from other repositories

A first version of the OpenContent Exchange Platform will be ready in early 2015: the full version is planned for February 2016.

The Open Knowledge team that will work on the eSpace project includes:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERALieke Ploeger, community manager of the OpenGLAM initiative and project co-ordinator of the DM2E project at Open Knowledge. OpenGLAM is focused on promoting free and open access to digital cultural heritage held by Galleries, Libraries, Archives and Museums, while DM2E is building the tools and communities to enable humanities researchers to work with manuscripts in the Linked Open Web. Before joining Open Knowledge, she worked at the National Library of the Netherlands, where she was involved in several large-scale European research projects, such as IMPACT in the area of digitisation and SCAPE in the field of digital preservation.


marieke-guy-roundedMarieke Guy, project co-ordinator at Open Knowledge. She is just completing work on the LinkedUp Project through which she supported a series of competitions aiming to get people to reuse open and linked data relevant to education. Many of the LinkedUp Catalogue datasets have come from the GLAM community and many of the tools developed have been museum related. Prior to working for Open Knowledge she spent 13 years at the University of Bath based at UKOLN, where she worked on a variety of Cultural Heritage projects including Cultivate, Exploit and IMPACT – a mass digitisation project which aimed to improve access to historical text. Marieke is co-ordinator of the Open Education Working Group and writes a blog about Remote Working.

EC reports on digitisation in Europe

Lieke Ploeger - October 14, 2014 in Featured, News

In early October the European Commission published two reports on the current state of digitisation of cultural heritage material in Europe: one report addresses progress in the area of digitisation and online accessibility of cultural material and digital preservation, while the other looks more specifically at the situation around European film heritage in the digital era. Both reports conclude that although more cultural content has been made available online in recent years, there is still a lot of work to be done.

The Report on Digitisation, Online Accessibility and Digital Preservation of Cultural Material reviews and assesses the overall progress Volta_della_stanza_della_segnatura_02,_filosofiaachieved in implementing the EC Recommendation of 27 October 2011 (2011/711/EU), which asked EU Member States to step up their digitisation efforts and increase online accessibility of European cultural heritage. The digitised material should be made more widely available through Europeana, Europe’s digital library, archive and museum.

Most noteworthy for OpenGLAM is the EC stating in the executive summary that for the promotion of new ways of expanding access to and re-use of cultural heritage through the use of digital platforms, it is essential to ensure wide availability of the digitised materials in open platforms, with appropriate quality, resolution and interoperability features.

Although web visibility of cultural content has increased through reduction of watermarking or visual protection measures and wider use of open formats or social media, digitisation still remains a challenge, with only a fraction of Europe’s collections digitised so far (around 12% on average for libraries and less than 3% for films).

An important area of concern is digitised public domain material: often access to this material is obstructed by intrusive watermarking, low resolution or visual protection measures, and its re-use limited by the prohibition of reproduction or use of such materials for other than non-commercial purposes. The Rijksmuseum is highlighted as one of the institutions showing the way forward, by having widely opened up their digitised public domain material in high resolution format for free reuse. Other examples mentioned are:

Europeana managed to reach its overall collection target of 30 million objects set out in the Recommendation ahead of the 2015 deadline, with a current total of over 33 million. However, still underrepresented are copyrighted material and audiovisual material. This is partly because of the complexity and costs involved in clearing rights for the digitisation and partly because of the lacking online accessibility of those materials. Also premium content from mainstream cultural institutions (including masterpieces of leading European museums) is not always present.

The second report, Film Heritage in the EU also mentions the high cost and complexity of copyright clearance as one of the main barriers to film digitisation and online access, together with lack of funding. Although online access to film heritage collections for non-commercial purposes has increased in the last years, it is still very small.

There is some work to be done in the next few years to improve the situation: the OpenGLAM network aims to contribute to a wider adoption of open licensing policies by cultural institutions in the future by showcasing the value of institutions opening up their collections and helping those interested in opening up their material through workshops, documentation and guidance on open cultural data.

More information

The full press release of the European Commission is available here. The publication of both reports coincided with the Athena Plus conference on the reuse of digital cultural content in education, tourism and leisure: more information on this event is available from this webpage.


Thomasin Sleigh - October 13, 2014 in Contest, Featured, Public Domain

GIF IT UP Banner -- 3

Over the last months of 2014, the Digital Public Library of America and DigitalNZ are holding GIF IT UP, an international competition to find the best GIFs reusing public domain and openly licensed digital video, images, text, and other material available via the organisations’ search portals.

Credit: Cat Galloping (1887). The still images used in this GIF come from Eadweard Muybridge’s “Animal locomotion: an electro-photographic investigation of consecutive phases of animal movements” (1872-1885). Courtesy USC Digital Library, 2010. Item is in the public domain: GIF available under a CC-BY license.

Credit: Cat Galloping (1887). The still images used in this GIF come from Eadweard Muybridge’s “Animal locomotion: an electro-photographic investigation of consecutive phases of animal movements” (1872-1885). Courtesy USC Digital Library, 2010. Item is in the public domain: GIF available under a CC-BY license.

The GIF IT UP competition (13 October–1 December 2014) has six categories:

  1. Animals
  2. Planes, trains, and other transport
  3. Nature and the environment
  4. Your hometown, state, or province
  5. WWI, 1914–1918
  6. GIF using a stereoscopic image

GIF IT UP will be co-judged by Adam Green, Editor of the Public Domain Review and by Brian Wolly, Digital Editor of

Winners will have their work featured and celebrated online at the Public Domain Review and also on The gallery entries with the most amount of Tumblr “notes” will receive the People’s Choice Award and will appear online at the Public Domain Review and alongside the category winners.

All the details and guidelines can be found at both DigitalNZ and the DPLA (which includes the submission form) and eligible entries will be posted to the GIF IT UP Tumblr gallery.

William Blake and Paul Mellon: The Life of the Mind

Matthew Hargraves - October 7, 2014 in Curator's Choice, Featured, Public Domain


Matthew Hargraves, Chief Curator of Art Collections at the Yale Center for British Art, looks at Paul Mellon as a collector of William Blake and the impact of his lifelong fascination with psychology and psychiatry on his collecting.

The Yale Center for British Art holds one of the world’s greatest collections of the work of William Blake thanks to the enthusiasm of its founder, Paul Mellon, for Blake’s art and ideas. Looking back on his life, Paul Mellon remembered that Blake’s “haunting poetry with its arcane mythology and his beautiful illuminated books have always had a special appeal for me,” an appeal rooted in his early passion for English literature which he studied at Yale in the later 1920s.1 But it was the interest of his first wife, Mary Conover Mellon, whom he married in 1935, in thought and methods of Carl Jung that helped transform Paul Mellon into a major collector of Blake’s work.2

Mary had introduced Paul Mellon to Jung’s ideas after they met in late 1933; even before marriage they had begun Jungian analysis in New York. In the early summer of 1938, Mr. and Mrs. Mellon journeyed to Switzerland and spent several weeks in Ascona above Lake Maggiore hoping the mountain air would relieve Mary’s chronic asthma. By coincidence Carl Jung was also in Ascona and the couple met the psychiatrist for the first time that summer. They returned the following year and saw Jung again before settling in Zurich in September 1939 to meet with Jung as patients several times a week. Germany’s invasion of Poland in 1939 meant this Swiss idyll could not last. In the spring of 1940 Mr. Mellon took a walking holiday with Jung but the obvious threat from Nazi Germany could not be ignored. He and Mary returned hastily to the United States shortly before the occupation of Denmark, Norway and France in May. By June 1941, feeling compelled to take action, Paul had enlisted in the US army; December saw the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and the United States enter the war.

Fig. 1: There Is No Natural Religion, Plate 9, “Therefore God becomes . . . . ” (Bentley b12), ca. 1788 – Source.

While wartime service forced an end to the relationship with Jung, the year Paul Mellon enlisted was also the year he began to collect important works by Blake, an artist in whom Mr. Mellon found new interest through Jung’s exploration of the unconscious and his theories about collective archetypes. In 1941 he acquired some exceptional books. This included There is No Natural Religion (1794) [fig. 1], an “illuminated” book of eleven color-printed relief etchings with pithy text critiquing the reductive philosophical materialism of his day; a set of the engraved Illustrations to the Book of Job (1825) in its original binding; and a copy of Blake’s engravings illustrating Edward Young’s Night Thoughts (1797) [fig. 2], one of two copies believed to have been hand-colored by Blake himself.

Fig. 2: Young’s Night Thoughts, Page 43, “Night the Third, Narcissa”, 1797 – Source.

Another very significant acquisition in 1941 was a version of Blake’s illustration to The Parable of the Wise and Foolish Virgins [fig. 3], made around 1825 for William Haines of Chichester and one of four replicas of an original design drawn for his patron Thomas Butts in around 1805. Blake adapted the traditional iconography of the judgment of souls to capture the underlying theological meaning of the parable (Matthew 25:1-13), but in the Mellon version the setting has become distinctively English with its distant Gothic spires. It was also one of the first English drawings acquired by Paul Mellon who would eventually form the most comprehensive collection of English works on paper outside of Britain.

Fig. 3: The Parable of the Wise and Foolish Virgins, ca. 1825 – Source.

The enthusiasm for Jung continued despite the war, including an enterprising scheme in the early part of 1945 for Mellon to enlist Jung’s help with psychological propaganda against the retreating German army. Germany’s surrender made the mission redundant and Paul was back home in Virginia by August that year. Almost immediately, and despite Paul’s growing reservations about aspects of Jung’s ideas, the Mellons established the Bollingen Foundation, under the directorship of his their great friend Jack Barrett, with the goal of publishing Jung’s collected works in English translation. But, as Paul Mellon explained later, the foundation’s broader mission was to publish “books devoted to subjects relating to art, aesthetics, anthropology, archaeology, psychology, philosophy, symbolism and comparative religion.”3

At the same time that the Mellons were immersed in the worlds of Jung and Blake, Mary began to form a major collection of alchemical books and manuscripts inspired by Jung’s own collection of similar material. But the return to civilian life was soon clouded by tragedy. In October 1946 after Paul had been home only a year, Mary Mellon died suddenly from an asthma attack. Paul Mellon continued acquiring alchemical material after her death and in 1965 he donated the entire collection of over three hundred items to the Beinecke Library at Yale University.4 From the later 1940s he was also beginning to support psychiatric institutions and therapeutic programs, including the Department of Psychiatry and Mental Hygiene at Yale University, one of the first dedicated departments of psychiatry at a medical school in the country.5

The mid-1940s were a difficult period in Paul Mellon’s life. Looking back he recognized how the destruction and privation he had witnessed in the war had changed him and the extent to which his wife’s death “overshadowed my life for some time.”6 He found solace in collecting, returning to the work of Blake and acquiring important books such a copy of the Songs of Innocence and Experience (1789, 1794) in 1947, the two books bound together in one volume by Blake’s friend George Cumberland; and a copy of Europe a Prophecy in 1948. Blake wrote Europe in 1794 and printed it in 1795, the hand-coloring in Mr. Mellon’s copy believed by some scholars to be the work of Blake’s wife and collaborator, Catherine. This copy was particularly significant for having been in the Disraeli family, bought by Isaac D’Israeli in the 1820s and bequeathed to his son, Benjamin Disraeli, the future Earl of Beaconsfield, in 1848. Europe dealt with that continent’s history from the time of Christ to Blake’s own day, exalting liberty and attacking especially the repressive forces of monarchy and clericalism. Its frontispiece, one of Blake’s most celebrated designs, represents the repressive figure of Urizen compassing the earth, attempting to measure and constrain the infinite [fig. 4].

Fig. 4: Europe. A Prophecy, Plate 1, Frontispiece, 1794 – Source.

In Blake’s complex, personal mythology, the figure of Urizen embodied conformity, and the repressive, rationalist, and materialistic philosophy of the age. Urizen was the enemy of all Imagination, who corrupted the natural ability of people to see things in their true essence. Blake contrasted him to Los, to whom he was once joined, and who represented for Blake the imaginative faculty and the spirit of revolution. Fresh from the horrors of war in Europe, disconcerted by the rising materialist spirit in post-war America, and concerned to help those afflicted with mental illness, Paul Mellon perhaps found resonances in Blake’s impassioned text and images, written as Blake watched the liberating promise of Revolutionary France descend into the bloodshed of the Terror and the spread of war across the Continent.

In the early 1950s Paul Mellon drifted away from Jungian influence and began almost a decade of Freudian analysis in Washington DC, a time he also got to know Anna Freud in London before becoming a significant supporter of her Foundation and what became the Anna Freud Centre for the psychiatric treatment of children. It was in 1953, as he was exploring Freudian psychology, that Paul Mellon bought his most important Blake book, Jerusalem The Emanation of the Giant Albion, a book that is at once Blake’s most difficult but also his greatest. He had begun writing Jerusalem in 1804 but had not completed it until 1821 only to find almost no one would buy the epic work. It dealt with the necessary reunion of Albion, symbolizing humanity, with Jerusalem (Albion’s ‘emanation’) representing Liberty and the free exercise of the Imagination [fig. 5]; but so abstruse, complex, and erratic is the text that is has been suggested it may reflect Blake’s own complicated psychological state in his final years, perhaps even schizophrenic tendencies.7

Fig. 5: Jerusalem, Plate 26, “Such Visions Have….”, 1804 to 1820 – Source.

Only five complete copies survive and this unique, hand-colored copy printed in orange ink was retained by Catherine Blake after her husband’s death and was bequeathed to Frederick Tatham when she died in 1831. Tatham was one of the Ancients, the young brotherhood of artists yearning to restore art to its primitive simplicity and who discovered the neglected and penurious Blake in his final years. Tatham had taken Catherine in after William’s death and received from her not only works by Blake but also anecdotes of his life which he wrote down and bound with the Mellon copy of Jerusalem as well as a visionary drawing by Richmond of Blake in youth and old age [fig. 6].

Fig. 6: William Blake in Youth and Age, by George Richmond, after Frederick Tatham, ca. 1830 – Source.

The enthusiasm and patronage of Tatham and his friends Samuel Palmer and George Richmond rescued Blake from abject poverty and isolation. Most important for Blake was the support of John Linnell, Palmer’s father-in-law and a friend of Blake’s since 1818, who commissioned work from Blake in his last years. Among the commissions Linnell gave Blake was a set of illustrations to Dante’s Divine Comedy that he began in 1824. This project, consisting of 102 watercolors, was left unfinished at his death. Blake had begun to make seven copperplates after his designs but had pulled only proof states before leaving the drawings and plates to Linnell. Linnell pulled some impressions from Blake’s plates after 1838 and Paul Mellon acquired two sets of the Illustrations to Dante in the early 1960s, which must have had a special significance to him. Mary Mellon had been especially interested in Dante. “Mary” he recalled in 1992, “had made a careful study of Dante’s Divine Comedy while at Vassar (I still have her copy of the book with her assiduous penciled annotations on nearly every page.)”8

By the late 1950s Paul Mellon had begun collecting British art with a new earnestness. His first collecting from the 1930s had been chiefly focused on books and some sporting paintings, but this developed into acquiring paintings and sculpture, as well as prints and drawings. In 1948 he married Rachel “Bunny” Lambert, and the new Mr. and Mrs. Mellon became the foremost art collectors in the United States and icons of elegant and understated style. Naturally his approach to Blake evolved too, with the acquisition of more drawings to go along with the illuminated books and prints. In the 1950s he bought rare landscape studies, and 1961 he acquired Blake’s tempera painting of the Virgin and Child followed the next year by what would become one of his favorite works of art: Blake’s miniature Horse [fig. 7].

Fig. 7: The Horse, ca. 1805 – Source.

This tiny tempera painting was made on a copperplate in around 1805 when Blake was working on illustrations to a new edition of the poems of William Hayley, here illustrating a ballad in which a mother steps bravely between her child and a fierce Arabian horse and tames it.9 Paul Mellon kept it in his Manhattan study until his death in 1999, an object combining his three chief passions for art, literature and horses. But it was in 1966 that Paul Mellon made his most significant acquisition of Blake drawings, buying the Illustrations to Gray’s Poems, a complete set of drawings to the collected works of Thomas Gray. These were made for the sculptor John Flaxman who approached Blake in around 1797 to illustrate Gray’s poetry as a birthday gift for his wife, Nancy. A printed edition of Gray’s poems was dismembered and attached to the center of fifty-eight large sheets of paper on which Blake drew his own designs. Despite illustrating another poet’s work, one of the most striking and characteristically Blakean sheets represents Hyperion, father of the sun, bursting forth to banish darkness and suffering [fig. 8].

The Poems of Thomas Gray, Design 45, “The Progress of Poesy.”, ca. 1797 – Source.

Blake associated the physical sun with Urizen’s corrupt material world, but the spiritual essence of the sun was the province of Los whom Blake associated with Poetic Genius and Imagination.10 For Blake, Imagination was the world of real essences of which the visible world was merely a faint echo. He once argued that “This World of Imagination is the World of Eternity. . . . This World is Infinite & Eternal whereas the world of Generation or Vegetation is Finite & Temporal.”11 Paul Mellon’s interest in psychology is one reason why Blake held such a lifelong fascination given that Blake’s own life’s work was to free the Imaginative faculty from the forces of repression. Despite the incomprehension of his contemporaries and his poverty, Blake kept his devotion to spiritual and mental freedom alive until the day he died. This impulse has remained a vital force long after his death. And in his final months he explained to George Cumberland that his physical body might be “feeble & tottering, but not in Spirit & Life, not in the Real Man The Imagination which Liveth for Ever.”12

Matthew Hargraves is Chief Curator of Art Collections and Head of Collections Information and Access at the Yale Center for British Art. He specializes in British art of the seventeenth, eighteenth and nineteenth centuries and is the author of Candidates for Fame: The Society of Artists of Great Britain (Yale UP, 2006); Great British Watercolors from the Paul Mellon Collection at the Yale Center for British Art (Yale UP, 2007); Varieties of Romantic Experience: Drawings from the Collection of Charles Ryskamp (YCBA, 2010); and A Dialogue with Nature: Romantic Landscapes from Britain and Germany (Paul Holberton, 2014).

1. Paul Mellon with John Baskett, Reflections in a Silver Spoon: A Memoir (New York: William Morrow and Company, 1992) p. 284. I am very grateful to John Baskett for kindly sharing his knowledge of Paul Mellon’s life and collecting with me, and to Amy Meyers and Scott Wilcox for their careful reading of this article.

2. For the chronology of Paul Mellon’s William Blake collecting I am indebted to Charles Ryskamp, “Paul Mellon and William Blake” in John Wilmerding (ed.), Essays in Honor of Paul Mellon: Collector and Benefactor (Washington: National Gallery of Art, 1986) pp. 329-337.
3. Reflections p. 172.
4. Ian MacPhail and Laurence C. Witten, “The Mellon Collection of Alchemy and the Occult” in The Yale University Library Gazette 41:1 (July 1966) pp. 1-15.
5. Jonathan W. Engel, “Early Psychiatry at Yale: Milton C. Winternitz and the Founding of the Department of Psychiatry and Mental Hygiene,” Yale Journal of Biology and Medicine, 67 (1994) p. 34.
6. Reflections p. 222.
7. Robert Essick, ‘Jerusalem and Blake’s final works’ in Morris Eaves, ed., The Cambridge Companion to William Blake (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003) p. 257
8. Reflections p. 163
9. The exact dating of The Horse is uncertain. Though ca. 1805 seems likely, stylistically it resembles work of the 1820s. See Martin Butlin, The Paintings and Drawings of William Blake (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1981) p. ?? no. 366.
10. S. Foster Damon, A Blake Dictionary: The Ideas and Symbols of William Blake (Boulder: Shambala, 1979) p. 246
11. William Blake, ‘A Vision of the Last Judgment,’ in David V. Erdman, ed., The Complete Poetry and Prose of William Blake (1965; Berkeley: University of California Press, 1982) p. 555.
12. Robert William Blake to George Cumberland, April 12, 1827, cited in Robert N. Essick, The Separate Plates of William Blake: A Catalogue (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1983) p. 122.

This post is part of our Curator’s Choice series, a monthly feature consisting of a guest article from a curator about a work or group of works in one of their “open” digital collections. Learn more here.

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Getty announces partnership with DPLA

Lieke Ploeger - September 19, 2014 in Featured, News

This week, the Getty Research Institute announced a new partnership with the Digital Public Library of America (DPLA), the database that provides access to digitized cultural heritage materials from American libraries, archives, and museums and makes these available as freely and openly as possible.

As a start of the collaboration, the Getty has added the metadata records (licensed as CC0) for nearly 100,000 art history materials (digital images, documentary photograph collections, archives, and books) dating from the 1400s to today, including some of their most popular items. Making this information available through the DPLA interface will both improve search and retrieval of material and open up more possibilities for reuse of this content. It for example ensures that the data is interoperable with datasets from other initiatives, so that websites like are able to create an interface through which you can search DPLA and Europeana simultaneously.

All Getty records are available through this DPLA page: more metadata will be uploaded in the future as more of the Getty’s collections are digitized.


Frontispiece in The mysteryes of nature and art: conteined in foure severall tretises… by John Bate. London, 1634. The Getty Research Institute, 2822-075