The Collection

Upon the institution of the chair of art history at the Jagiellonian University (1882), on the initiative of its founder, Professor Marian Sokołowski, all kinds of reproductions of works of art started to be acquired: plaster casts, prints, photomechanical reproductions and photographs, which were meant to serve mainly as teaching aids but also as indispensable research tools. The Cabinet of Art History, established in 1884 with the particular purpose of assembling the aforesaid reproductions, was the oldest institution of its kind on the Polish lands and counted among the oldest such establishments in Europe. Despite many organisational changes, this institution has been working to this day, now as the Photo Library of the Institute of Art History.

At present, the holdings of the Photo Library count about 68 thousand photographs in the form of prints of various formats, transparencies and negatives; further, printed reproductions (including portfolios of large-size plates) and drawings. The vast majority of objects date from the pre-World War II times, while relatively numerous items come from the end of the nineteenth- and the turn of the twentieth century. These objects were acquired through purchases or donations (e.g. the collection of Jerzy Mycielski). In the interwar period the holdings of the Photo Library were augmented by the photographs taken during a recording of historic monuments campaign undertaken by the Art History Institute. A mention must also be made of the materials left by the wartime Nazi Institut für Deutsche Ostarbeit. Recently, the Photo Library has acquired photographic collections of the late Professor Lech Kalinowski and Dr Franciszek Stolot, among others.


The core of the holdings is made up of photographic prints, usually in the format of 13 by 18 cm (or larger), depicting artworks from the present and former Polish territories, with special prominence given to the area of Lesser Poland and Cracow. Among the authors of photographs are the most eminent Polish photographers: Ignacy Krieger, Józef Jaworski, Jan Bułhak and Stanisław Kolowca. A separate group includes photographs of foreign, mainly Italian, artworks (from the period up to the end of the eighteenth century) ordered from well-known photographic agencies (e.g. Alinari, Brogi, Anderson).

The negatives in the collection, mainly, on glass and film (13 by 18 cm), were shot by the Institute’s photographer Władysław Gumuła. For most part, they show Polish historic monuments; additionally, an insubstantial group of photographs depicting the works of Polish art after 1945 may be singled out.

Additionally, the Photo Library has over 10 thousand glass transparencies in the format of 8.2 by 8.2 cm, which were once used during lectures for students. The majority of them were produced by the Berlin atelier of Franz Stoedtner and the well-known publishing house from Leipzig E. A. Seeman. The collection includes also examples by Józef Cieśliński’s Cracow Transparencies Atelier [Krakowska Pracownia Przezroczy] or the atelier of Jan Bułhak, to mention just these two. Unlike many other academic institutions, the Photo Library of the Institute of Art History does not keep 35-mm slides which until recently were used as a teaching aid. They were purpose-made, used for particular lectures and/or seminars, and were handled directly by departments or professors themselves.


The almost complete replacement of traditional photography by digital imaging and the resulting boom in digitisation of archival collections of all kinds, will naturally affect also the future of our Photo Library. In accordance with the principles of Florence Declaration, our main strategic objective is the digitisation of our holdings while at the same time preserving the integrity of the archival collection. Simultaneously, however, the collection is bound to be constantly growing, be enriched with digital images, taken e.g. during student field trips and study tours or photographic surveys. For instance, we shall soon acquire a collection of digital photographs taken during the recording of artworks carried out by the faculty members of our Institute for the needs of a catalogue of historic monuments of Lesser Poland (Dehio Kleinpolen).