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As you search for images in databases, digital collections, and catalogs, keep the following in mind:
Not all images are catalogued and described the same way. Trying a search with the word "tiger" won't necessarily bring up ALL the images of tigers, and in some cases might bring up images that do not feature tigers. Still, using "tiger" as a search term may prove to be useful Be prepared to wander and spend time looking at search results, and to be flexible with the terms you use!
As with most catalog and database searches, some rules apply:
You can normally use * to stand in for missing letters (for instance, Ital* can search Italy or Italian)
Try placing words in a phrase together "in quotes."
Combining with AND narrows a search, while combining with OR expands it.
Take advantage of browsing features! Some collections will group images together by a shared theme or historical context. This can be a great way to spend time with images and find things you weren't expecting, while (hopefully) not getting too overwhelmed.
Take advantage of limits (by date, artistic medium, etc.) in your searches and search results.
When possible, look for options to limit your searches to work in the public domain, or Creative Commons licensed images. For more on how to identify work in the public domain via Creative Commons, read this!
Databases / Image Collections
This list draws heavily on the work of Art and Architecture Librarian Meredith Wisner's Subject Guide to Art History, which is an excellent resource for art historical research.
Searchable database of digital images and associated catalog data, with new image collections added several times a year. ARTstor covers many time periods and cultures, and documents the fields of architecture, painting, sculpture, photography, decorative arts, design, anthropology, ethnographic and women's studies, as well as many other forms of visual culture. Users can search, view, download and organize images. TIP: To limit to searches for images that are in the public domain, you can run an Advanced Search limiting by Collection Type to "Public Collections."
Tip: To use the CLIO Articles search to search for images: First run a search with relevant keywords (for instance: Michelangelo AND scultpure). Then, on the results page, limit by "content type" to Image. To access digitized images, click on links reading "full text available." You can also limit by Publication Date to the desired date range.
The Digital Scriptorium is an image database of medieval and renaissance manuscripts, intended to unite scattered resources from many institutions into an international tool for teaching and scholarly research.
Find selected digitized materials from the Research Institute's collection that are free to view and download. Materials include over 2.5 million digital images of rare and public domain books, photographs, prints, manuscripts, sketchbooks, and archives.
The Met's collections - including over 5,000 years of art from around the globe - are accessible through this online database. You can search by artist or culture, object type or material, geographic location, date or era, and by department. Select "Public Domain Artworks" to limit your search to only those images that are free to use without permission.
Search the entire National Gallery of Art collection by artist's last name, key words in the title, key words in object information, credit line, provenance name, accession number, exhibition history, and/or catalogue raisonné. You will be able to filter your search results by medium, nationality, time span, styles, images, and whether an object is on view.
Prompt books for performances of Shakespeare's plays between the seventeenth and twentieth centuries, and supporting material for 17 selected plays. Documents are indexed by genre, country, theatre, associated names, and other key search terms. Also present: ephemera, photographs, illustrations, music scores, correspondence, and illustrations. Some were owned by famous actors such as Charles and John Philip Kemble, Henry Irving, Ellen Terry and Laurence Olivier. Others are extremely rare and old editions, in particular the 1670s Smock Alley prompt books from the Theatre Royal in Dublin, often marked up on copies of the original folios.