Being held open
Workshop of Robert Campin, Madonna and Child in Enclosed Garden (detail), ca. 1450; Kress; National Gallery of Art.

The BASIRA Project, a digital humanities research effort, explores interconnections of book history and European art during the Renaissance. As a database of visual images, tagged with structured details, the project may be useful for studies of art history, material culture, religious history, printing technology, iconography, and history of literacy.

¶ Even though books are featured prominently in a large percentage of European paintings and sculptures of the period, the specific particularity of the book itself has been largely overlooked. We hope that the BASIRA database will foster analysis of trends in artists’ portrayals of books: ways that books were held, displayed, and read, using such variables as region, patrons, faith communities, aesthetic traditions, and/or access to technology.

Black book being held with 2 HANDS
Matteo di Pacino, St. Cosmas and St. Damian (detail), ca. 1370–1375, N.C. Museum of Art

¶ The BASIRA taxonomy counts all books in an image, and records detailed information for those that are “prominent.” Data fields include: binding (style, size, and color);  the book holder (nature and posture); book action (open, closed, being written or read); the artist; the repository.

¶ We continue to gather input and guidance on ways this data is recorded and tallied. Comments on the taxonomy are especially welcome, as are references to works of art depicting books that should be included in this study.

Barbara Williams Ellertson, bwellert@basiraproject.org
Andrea Zietlow, AZietlow@basiraproject.org

Header image is a detail from Madonna delle Ombre, created by Beato Angelico between 1440 and 1450, now in the Museo nazionale di San Marco, Florence, Italy. Public domain image.

2 thoughts on “Home

  1. How do you actually get to the BASIRA database itself to search it? I’ve looked at your taxonomy page, but can’t seem to find a link to the filemaker pro database.

    Georgianna Ziegler
    Assoc. Librarian, Folger Library


    1. Hello, Georgiana Ziegler, thank you for visiting and for your comment. At the moment, the BASIRA database isn’t yet open to web searches, though that is our hope for the future. Kindly send us a note if you’d like to explore the database in its current, not-quite-ready for primetime state; we would be *very* interested to hear what questions and interests you might bring to our attention. Thank you! Barbara Williams Ellertson. basirabew@gmail.com


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