Scope and Organization of the Archive

The Index records works of art produced throughout the “Long Middle Ages,” from early apostolic times until the sixteenth century in seventeen different media. Although the collection’s emphasis has been on the art of western Europe and Byzantium, we have recently added significant holdings from Coptic Egypt, Lebanon, Ethiopia, Syria, Armenia, and the Near East. Although the Index of Medieval Art was formerly known as the Index of Christian Art, the term “Christian” was always broadly construed and not restricted to art produced in ecclesiastical contexts, so the Index includes many other subjects such as mythological scenes, personifications, symbolic animals, and more.

At the time of Charles Rufus Morey’s death in 1955, the Index had a collection of some 500,000 cards and slightly under 100,000 photographs, the cataloguing guidelines for which had been firmly established under the directorship of Helen Woodruff between 1933 and 1942. Since then, the collection has continued to expand, with an average of 1000 new works added to the archive every year. At present, the Index offers access to approximately 200,000 images and related information in the physical archive; about half of these currently also exist in the digital database. These holdings have been augmented significantly by collaborations with the J. Pierpont Morgan Library and Museum, the Paul van Moorsel Centre, Leiden University, the Brooklyn Museum of Art, and the Princeton Library Manuscripts Collection.

The original Index was designed as a complementary system of two card files. The first is a collection of photographs filed on 5 x 8 cards with brief textual data and a record number. These are classified according to medium and current location. The second, or Subject, file provides a thematic index of the photographs and is arranged on 3 x 5 cards filed alphabetically, from “Alpha and Omega” to “Zwentibold of Lorraine;” these too are grouped by medium. Each work of art card lists a primary subject relating to the first scene described; other subjects are cross-referenced with primary cards of their own. Orientation to this system is provided to all new visitors to the Index.

Today, physical access to the original card files is augmented by an online database originally launched in 1991 with the goal of providing wider access to the files for researchers beyond the Princeton campus. The original system used an application of the library cataloguing software ALEPH, developed by the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, and markedly expanded the capacity of the files as well as the ability of users to refine and customize research. Access to this database is freely available to users at Princeton and by subscription to users based off-campus; subscriber information is available here. We are delighted to report that in response to recent technological developments and the evolving research needs of our users, we have now begun the process of redesigning the database, with the goal of offering a more intuitive and flexible platform by the Index’s centennial in 2017.