Federico Zeri Foundation

University of Bologna

Location: Bologna, Italy
Photographs: 290,000
Website | Online catalogue 

The Federico Zeri Foundation is a center for research and specialist training highly specialized in the History of Art. It was set up in 1999 by the University of Bologna with a view to making known the life-work and profile of Federico Zeri (1921-1998), as well as preserving his bequest and turning it to best account: an art library (46,000 volumes), a collection of 37,000 auction catalogs and a photo archive.

Photo Archive

The Fototeca Zeri is a collection of 290,000 photographs of artworks and monuments, organized, expanded and improved by the scholar throughout his entire career.

In common with other famous connoisseurs like Bernard Berenson and Roberto Longhi, Federico Zeri found the photo archive an indispensable tool in studying as well as in philological analyses of artworks. It was also considered extremely important in documenting and recognizing cultural heritage.

Besides its rich Italian painting section (150,000 photographs), the archive contains sizable core collections covering Italian sculpture (17,000), Still life painting (14,000), Archaeology (5,300), Architecture (8,800), Drawings (12,700), the Applied arts (18,000), and Miniatures (5,500). 

The uniqueness of this collection lies in the rarity of the materials and in the original arrangement that reflects Zeri's concept of art history and transmits his attributions. Approximately the 40% of the records dates from before the end of the 1930s and often document artworks in different moments of their history, different states of preservation or before destruction or disappearance. The photographs come from national photo archives, Italian and foreign museums, private collections, auction houses, restorers. For the most part they are black and white prints on paper.

A complex cross-reference system, in the form of annotations on the back of the photos, provides information about provenance, attributions, restoration and bibliography of the artworks and connects the photographic library to the art library and the auction catalogs collection.

Since its constitution, Federico Zeri Foundation’s first task was to ensure that the photographic Library was made accessible to users by cataloging and digitizing the photographs and setting up a freely available online database. At present 140,000 painting pictures up to 18th century and 15,000 sculpture pictures from 11th to 20th centuries are available online, accompanied by a rich set of metadata.

The database is constantly increased with new cataloged photographs.