Digital Cicognara Library

Reviewed by:
Natalia Lonchyna
Retired Librarian (formerly at the North Carolina Museum of Art)

Libraries are all about accessibility. One may have the most beautiful library in the world and yet, if no one knows about it, it is only available to those who can physically be in the space and experience the tomes tactilely. We now live in the exciting time of digital resources which has made a significant difference to scholarship, has made resources available to those who lack the funds to travel, and has opened an incredible world to all researchers for scholars and amateurs alike. Although the experience of seeing a book in person is always preferable, it is quite remarkable to have access to such treasure troves as the Digital Cicognara Library.

Count Leopoldo Cicognara (1767-1834) was a renowned art historian who amassed over 5,000 books in his library collection–art, art history, archeology, and related disciplines. Cicognara published an  inventory of his library collection, Catalogo ragionato de’ libri d’arte e di antichità. This serves as the guide to his collection which was purchased in its entirety by Pope Leo X and became part of the Vatican Library. Phillip and Reina Fehl began a decades-long project to produce a microfiche collection of the contents. Subsequently, the microfiche collection and digitized books held in participating  libraries became the Digital Cicognara Library. 

This digital resource is available free of charge and is easy to navigate and search. In addition to the search box, the homepage provides the following headers: About (history of Cicognara and his library), Community (participating institutions), Contact (e-mail content provider), News (relating to the development and status of the project), and the option to subscribe to Twitter (if you would like to follow the tweets produced by this project).

The simple search box will give results of titles, no matter the language. For example, if you type in architecture, the result list will contain the works in the language of the appropriate subject, not only in Italian or Latin, but English, French, German, and Spanish. Dropdown menus can further refine the user’s search by language, year, and other options. An advanced search is also available. On the “Browse full catalogo” page, access to the bound version of the original catalog is provided through an external link to the Vatican’s website as well as the listing of the catalog for browsing  by subject matter according to Cicognara’s categories (for example, “Architettura teatrale antica”).  In both the search results page and the browse page, the list of titles includes the Cicognara catalog number, the hyperlinked title of the book, and, if available, an annotation in Italian. If you search using the Chrome browser, the Google translate option appears. The translation can be a hit or a miss but does provide the gist of the annotation. 

Logos of participating Institutions of the Digital Cicognara Library

In both the search results and the browse page, the titles of the books are hyperlinked to the microfiche version and the actual book held at the Vatican or participating library if available.  The digitized versions, whether the microfiche or the books from the participating institutions, are powered by IIIF (International Image Interoperability Framework), which allows the user to turn the pages and zoom in closer on images or text.  One can download the microfiche version in its entirety as a pdf or individual pages from the books of particular libraries. For text, the digitized microfiche version is very readable; for images, the digitized book form will be more desirable. A need to see another version of the same title comes into play most when viewing illustrations. The sidebar for the entries indicate the possible versions available. As an aside, those who are interested in the physical aspect of the book can also examine and zoom in on the binding and endpapers. The expanded cataloging record underneath the viewing platform explains the version that you see, as well as comments on the imperfections and useful information, i.e. lack of digitized pages and others.

Record result which includes both the microfiche version and the digitized book version.

Many digitized libraries require memberships or subscriptions; however, the Digital Cicognara Library is an open access source for professional researcher and amateur alike. The fact that this project is supported by many different libraries (The Vatican Library, Getty, Princeton, Harvard, National Gallery of Art, etc.) gives gravitas to its importance in the world of scholarship. Because of the partnership, the Digital Cicognara Library is available through many different venues, which makes it accessible to even more researchers than through a single point of access. The Getty Portal, Hathi Trust, Internet Archive also provide access, as well as the individual libraries that participate in this project. Researchers therefore have numerous options for accessing these titles, among them the richly contextual Digital Cicognara Library website. Scholars not only of art history and architecture, but of the historical time period (16th through 19th centuries) will hopefully be delighted to have these digital resources at their fingertips.