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Technical Art History

Sources for art history that engages the physical sciences and their histories.

Current Bibliography

Subject Headings

Library of Congress Subject Headings are used for books in most libraries and can be helpful in LionSearch, the Library Catalog, or WorldCat.  One good way to identify them is to locate a full catalog record for a book that you know to be of interest and try the subject headings that were assigned to it.  Generally these headings follow the formula of first naming a form or medium, then specifying one or more standard subdivisions for process and time period.  For example:

Artists materials – Analysis

Painting – Technique

Art – Technique – Early works to 1800

Painting – Technique – History

[medium] – [period] – Technique

Reference Sources

For quick answers to specific questions:

An important manual for key pigments from the history of painting. In 4 volumes produced over many years, so a bit awkward in its organization. Consult the complete table of contents in WorldCat to determine which volume you need. Volumes 1 through 3 are freely downloadable from the National Gallery.

Museums and Institutes

The conservation and scientific departments of the world's largest museums usually post information about their current conservation and experimental work.  Finding these portions of museum web sites requires persistence, but the Met, the Smithsonian, Britain's National Gallery, the Rijksmuseum, Berlin's Staatliche Museen, and many others offer substantial information.  Institutes may be associated with a museum, but usually provide services for other institutions as well.


It is possible, though not without lots of clicking, to read unpublished summaries of the technical analysis of dozens, perhaps hundreds, of art works being examined by this important Italian conservation network. Similar, but separate, information is available from the Ministry’s Opificio Pietre Dure.

Journals and Book Series

Systematic access to relevant articles in journals is provided by the databases in the CURRENT BIBLIOGRAPHY section, above.  Here are simply a few journal titles that one might browse to keep up to date.  Also some monographic series.

Books published by the Getty Conservation Institute are numerous and Penn State’s libraries hold most.