On December 19th, 2012 an unusual gift arrived to the Dibner Library of the History of Science and Technology in two huge crates. The cargo did not look like, nor was it packed as books, more like art work. Naturally, the shipment was not a surprise: its arrival had been preceded by a year’s worth of correspondence, administration, a trip to pack and ship, and several phone calls about the material.
Roughly half of the Cultural Heritage Library (CHL), available online here, includes titles from the Smithsonian’s Art Libraries. While copyright restrictions prohibit much coverage of more contemporary titles, the CHL addresses a broad swath of art history’s major movements and themes, including wildly popular and renowned movements like Cubism and Impressionism. Sometimes we isolate historical events; we forget that preceding events and influences play major roles in what comes next. This seems to be especially easy when it comes to art history’s tendency to declare masterpieces and the genius of the artisté. This month we take a look at part of what made Van Gogh and Monet so relevant for their time and enduring into ours: ukiyo-e, the “floating world” of Japanese woodblock prints.