Germany’s documentation center for art history, Deutsches Dokumentationszentrum für Kunstgeschichte – Bildarchiv Foto Marburg, was founded in 1913. It is a documentation and research institute for visual cultural assets, institutionalized as a central facility at Philipps-Universität Marburg. It is one of the largest scholarly image collections focussing on art history and archaeology in the world. In the field of art-historical services and research institutes, Foto Marburg is an outstanding and renowned institution. Active within Germany and internationally, the documentation center is tasked with documenting Europe’s monumental cultural heritage for scientific research and enabling access to it with the aid of cutting-edge media technologies. To this end, top-grade photographs are produced or acquired from third parties, scientifically analysed in accordance with recognized standards and made available to researchers and the public. The focus is on objects examined within the field of art history and its related disciplines, e.g. archaeology. These are in particular architectural monuments, furnishings and collectors’ items from cultural institutions in all sectors in Germany and Europe.
Unique in terms of its collection, Foto Marburg has been a point of reference in the field of documentation methods and IT/data processing solutions for decades and is among those institutes that set professional standards in handling primary information in the area of cultural studies. Foto Marburg’s key role in terms of making art-historical primary information accessible to the public is evident in its intensive collaboration over many years with German and international institutes that work to preserve and document visual cultural assets.
According to its statutes, one of its primary tasks is to conduct research on all aspects of how visual cultural assets are passed on, in particular in relation to the media and the history of science, as well as on the documentation and interpretation of works of architecture and art. The research results are presented in the form of academic events and publications. The research program for the coming years centers on how things are visually passed on in light of the accompanying media-related transformations of the visual, including the political instrumentalization and social evaluation of works of architecture and art and their visual representations (graphics, photographs, digital versions, etc.). A second focal point is the selection, distinction and amplification, i.e. the process of canonization as part of social value formation, that take place in the course of passing on cultural assets.
At Bildarchiv Foto Marburg 2.2 million original photographs (negatives, diapositives and digital photographs) are administered from all photographic eras since around 1860. They are stored under continually optimized conditions and are always available. They document art and architecture from all epochs in Germany, France, Italy, Greece, Spain, Switzerland, the Baltic region, Poland, Austria, the Czech Republic, Great Britain, the Netherlands, Belgium, Turkey, Egypt, Armenia, Portugal, Slovakia and other countries.
The collection is extremely valuable with regard to both the buildings and artworks documented and the photographs themselves. Many of them are unique depictions of objects that have been destroyed; others document lost states in one-off visual testimonies. At the same time the photos deserve acknowledgement as photographic achievements and as individual testimonies of their respective aesthetic view.
Some 1.4 million photographs have been catalogued in the database to date. The analogue specimens in the collection are successively being digitized.
The inventory is continually strategically expanded by acquisitions of historical photographic archives, gifts and bequests, permanent loans and Foto Marburg’s own photo campaigns. Moreover, cutting-edge digital photography methods serve to expand the collection, as do cooperations with other visual documentation institutes in the context of digital networking. Today some 80 partner institutions supply digital images and analytical information to the central database “Bildindex der Kunst und Architektur” (Image Index of Art and Architecture), which is run by the documentation center and is freely accessible online. Foto Marburg also publishes its holdings in this database.