Cataloguing Paul Jacobsthal’s Celtic Art

One of the projects that our volunteers are currently working on is cataloguing the photographs, prints, and drawings from the Jacobsthal Archive. Through generous grants from the Reva and David Logan Foundation and the Heritage Lottery Fund, we’ve been able to buy the materials needed to document these images.

Celtic art images and cataloguing materials

 Writing Early Celtic Art and beginning its follow-up Early Celtic Art in the British Isles (which was eventually completed by Martyn Jope) was a huge feat that required an enormous amount of research. Jacobsthal personally visited dozens of museums thoroughout Europe to photograph objects, or he wrote to curators requesting pictures. In the process, he built up a collection of thousands of photographs of various Celtic artefacts, made all the more interesting because, as Jacobsthal notes in his letters, he developed unique techniques to photograph them.

The first edition of Early Celtic Art, published in 1944

Early Celtic Art in the British Isles, published in 2000











We sleeve each image in a conservation-grade Melinex polyester storage pocket (this is basically a clear plastic sleeve). This protects the photos and drawings from the wear and tear that occurs from frequent handling (and not to mention oily fingertips). Each image is numbered, and we try to record as much information about every picture as possible: which artefact is represented, its provenance, which museum or publication has provided the image, the picture’s date and creator, any handwriting present on the image or its mount, and conservation notes.

Volunteer Roelie Reed cataloguing photos of Scandinavian artefacts

To date, we have catalogued roughly 1200 images from 15 boxes of materials. Although we don’t know exactly what made Jacobsthal’s photographing technique so different from others, we hope to get a better understanding through the study of images that he took (studying his correspondence may also reveal his secret – in the past week, we’ve come across a letter to a colleague in which Jacobsthal elaborates a bit more on his method). Studying the handwriting that is on the backs of the photos or on their mounts will help us to piece together either whom he was travelling with or who sent him the photos. Being able to put names to Jacobsthal’s currently anonymous collaborators will allow us to piece together his intellectual network and assign date ranges to the images.

Our goal is to one day digitize all of the images and make them available in a specially designed database. Until then, we’ll carry on with our paper records, and we always welcome enquiries about our collections!

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1 Response to Cataloguing Paul Jacobsthal’s Celtic Art

  1. Pingback: In Search of the Eskelhem Horse Trappings | Archaeology Archives Oxford

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