The first ever art book to be illustrated with photographs has been carefully restored at the National Library of Scotland in preparation for an exhibition at one of the world's leading museums.
William Stirling's 'Annals of the artists of Spain' was published in 1848 and contained the first photographs ever published of Spanish paintings, drawings, sculpture and prints by artists including El Greco, Velázquez, Murillo and Goya. It is credited with helping Spanish art to become widely known abroad.
Only 50 copies were produced and the Library's copy is one of only 25 with extra plates, taken by an assistant of William Henry Fox Talbot, who was the founder of modern photography. It is to go on show at the Museo del Prado museum in Madrid in May as part of an exhibition that has assembled for the first time the material used by the Scots collector for the preparation of his book. The Library's copy will be on display along with those from other collections across the world. Another of its special characteristics is that it was personally donated by the author to the library of the Faculty of Advocates, the forerunner of the National Library of Scotland.
These volumes are so rare and fragile that very few people, even specialist scholars, have ever seen a copy. Conservators at the National Library of Scotland have carried out detailed repair work on the Library's copy. This involved cleaning every page, repairing paper tears and repairing damage to the spine and cover of the book. A film of the conservation work has been made to accompany the exhibition and it will be on show to the public — along with the book itself — at the Library on Wednesday (27 April).
The National Library has been working with the Stirling Maxwell Research Project at the University of Glasgow in preparation for the exhibition. William Stirling (Sir William Stirling Maxwell) was Chancellor of the university from 1875 to 1878. He was a pioneer in the appreciation of Spanish art and assembled an impressive art collection.
His 'Annals of the artists of Spain' marked the beginning of the study of art through photography and photographically illustrated books. With these tools, art history as an academic discipline became possible, and access to knowledge of art became available to a wide range of people.
The short film showing the conservation work will be shown in the Library boardroom at George IV Bridge, Edinburgh, from 12.00 until 14.00 on Wednesday 27 April. Entry is free.
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26 April 2016