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 traditional emphasis has been on the art of western Europe and Byzantium, it has recently added significant holdings from Coptic Egypt, Lebanon, Ethiopia, Syria, Armenia, and the Near East. Subjects represented comprise both religious and secular themes and draw on a growing range of faith and cultural traditions.
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. 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, where they 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, 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.
In 1991, the card files were augmented by an online database using an application of the library cataloguing software ALEPH, developed by the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. In 2017, the online records were migrated to a custom-designed online database that markedly improved the researcher experience. We are now in the process of entering the remaining print-only records into the new database. Since 2023, access to the new database is free to all users.