You are here: Home Project


History of the Census

In 1946, the Census was initiated by the art historians Fritz Saxl (1890-1948) and Richard Krautheimer (1897-1994) as well as the archaeologist Karl Lehmann (1894-1960) and established at the Warburg Institute in London. The correspondence of the scholars reveals that the uncertainty about the actual knowledge of the Quattrocento and Cinquecento artists of antiquity was one of the central problems regarding the edition and interpretation of their works. Consequently, the idea developed to create a census to record systematically the specific antique works which were or could have been known to the artists. On the basis of contemporary textual sources and drawings they should be identified.

Fritz Saxl Richard Krautheimer Karl Lehmann

With the American archaeologist Phyllis Pray Bober, who in 1947 put into operation the ideas of the founders, the Census received the contour which it still has today. On each card in the record card system, which included the antique monuments in alphabetical order, the early modern documents were listed, showing the monument or informed about its state, iconography, authorship and dating. By referring to the reproductions in the Photographic Collection of the Warburg Institute, the image components, as we would say today, were already included. At this early stage the compilation was restricted to antique sculpture and its documentation within the period from 1400 to around 1530.

Phyllis Pray Bober Census Karteikasten Ruth Rubinstein

With Ruth Rubinstein, who came to the Warburg Institute in 1957, the project won its second longstanding protagonist. Bober had continued work on the project at the Institute of Fine Arts in New York, and now London had its Census “work site”. The time limitation of the material to be recorded soon expanded to 1600. For the work of the Census numerous photos from sketchbooks and drawings after antiquities were purchased which caused the Photographic Collection of the Warburg Institute to become one of the most important centers of Renaissance drawings. In the context and with the assistance of the research of the Census, numerous Renaissance sketchbooks were finally published.

When in the early 1980s a cooperation was entered into with the Bibliotheca Hertziana, which was then under the direction of Matthias Winner and Christoph Luitpold Frommel, it was the architecture historians’ interest to integrate antique architecture, which until then had been omitted. Already by the end of the 1970s a computerization of the record card system was planned. The expansion of the material to integrate the complexities of architecture served as an additional argument to take new paths. At the same time, the J. Paul Getty Trust started its Art History Information Program, a framework in which the use of electronic data processing for the humane sciences was to be tested, and thus the first Census database was developed and programmed.

Unix Census 1993 Unix Screen

From 1981, under the direction of Arnold Nesselrath in Rome and in cooperation with the programmer Rick Holt, the data model was developed, and the first input system and later the retrieval were programmed. For the data model the complex information on the record cards of Bober and Rubinstein had to be transferred in a clear structure, since the most important advantage of the object-relational model is the access to information from all sides: while the record card system had been accessible only via the names of the antique monuments, the data now could be accessed from all sides.

The next change of location of the project coincided with the transition into the next technological generation. The funding of the project by the Bibliotheca Hertziana terminated in 1995, and Horst Bredekamp, who recently had been appointed professor at the Humboldt University, successfully espoused the permanent affiliation of the project to the present Institute of Art and Visual History. Additional funding and support was provided by the Bundesministerium für Bildung und Forschung (Federal Ministry of Education and Research). In the first Berlin years the software of the database was reorganized. With the migration to the system dyabola, by which the data model itself was not changed, the input of data at several stations was possible, and the consultation, formerly only possible in London and Rome, was facilitated considerably by the publication of the database on CD and later on DVD. In 2000 the first internet version was made available.

Dyabola Census

The next stage of the Census also involves the transfer into a new technological generation. When the project was incorporated in the program of the Berlin-Brandenburg Academy of Sciences and Humanities with a runtime until 2017, a priority task was to provide open access to the data. With the estimable support of the Academy and the team of Telota, the formerly licensed dyabola database was again transferred into a new system and made freely accessible via a new web-based software.

Census Datenbank aktuell

From its inception, the focus of the project has changed only regarding the expansion of the timeframe and the inclusion of architecture, and, in the last years, of coins. The issue has always been the same: which antique works were known where and in which state in the Renaissance?

List for further reading

Kontakt / Contact

Sitz / office:
Georgenstr. 47, 10117 Berlin
2. OG / second floor
tel.: ++ 49-30-20 93 66 250
fax: ++ 49-30-20 93 66 251

Anschrift / postal address:
Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin
Institut für Kunst- und Bildgeschichte / Census
Unter den Linden 6
D - 10099 Berlin

Online-Ausstellung / Online Exhibition