Beazley Archive library

In February 2007 the Beazley Archive was moved from the Cast Gallery of the Ashmolean Museum to the Faculty of Classic's new Ioannou School on St Giles', adjacent to the museum. It occupies most of the third floor of the centre and has a library and study area for students, senior scholars and visiting scholars.

At the same time the name Classical Art Research Centre was created to cover the range of research activities being carried out, beyond the work of the Archive itself.


The original archive of Sir John Beazley, Lincoln Professor of Classical Archaeology and Art from 1925 until 1956, was purchased for the Faculty of Classics in 1964. On his death in 1970 it was brought to the Ashmolean Museum. Within a few years the personal archive of material relating to the study of classical archaeology and art was transformed into a research resource for students and scholars. It consisted of photographs, notes, drawings, books and impressions from engraved gems. The photographs of Athenian vases are the largest archive of this class in the world and were the basis of Beazley's life's work.

Photo of Archive office
  • Beazley Archive, in the Cast Gallery of the Ashmolean Museum

Since 1970 the entire collection has been enlarged and enhanced through gift and purchase.
There are now:

  • an estimated 500,000 notes
  • 150,000 black and white photographs
  • 33,000 negatives
  • 7,000 colour prints
  • 2000 books and catalogues
  • 50,000 gem impressions

Major benefactions have been the personal archives of other scholars, most recently Martin Robertson's, T.J. Dunbabin's and Llewelyn Brown's, photographs (about 10,000) from the German Committee for Corpus Vasorum Antiquorum and digital images (5000) from the Musée du Louvre. All of this material is available for the use of students and scholars.

The Archive was housed in several rooms on the lower level of the Ashmolean Museum's Cast Gallery, with an area for users in the public gallery space outside the main archive offices. Although the space was always restricted, users and staff benefited from being able to work in a museum department surrounded by objects documented in the Archive. Students also benefited greatly from being able to engage in volunteer work in academic, curatorial and technical projects.

While the original archive was being enlarged and enhanced, a new electronic archive was being created. From 1979 computers were used to document Athenian figure-decorated pottery c. 625-325 BC. Today that database has more than 100,000 records, 150,000 images and 20,000 registered users. The data structure and lists of terms developed for it have been the foundation on which other databases have been created since 1992. They have also been made available to other scholars for comparable databases on a variety of materials being compiled elsewhere.

In 1998 all the assets of the electronic archive were put on the world wide web with the intention of combining resources for advanced scholarship with programs for the public. The Beazley Archive website had several thousands of fixed HTML pages with many thousands more programatically produced on demand from the various databases (Casts, Pottery and Gems), an illustrated dictionary of more than 300 pages and 900 images, bibliographies for classical architecture, sculpture, gems, pottery, coins, history of collections and reception of classical art and illustrated introductions for students about pottery, sculpture and engraved gems. During 2006/7 the site was redesigned to be W3C AA compliant.

  • Photo of work area in public gallery An area for users in the public area of the Cast Gallery.

A principal aim has been to make extensive resources widely available; web-based technology offers an ideal means to achieve this. For example Beazley made more than 1,500 tracings from Athenian red-figure vases during the first decades of the twentieth century. These line 'drawings' are the foundation on which Beazley based his system of attributing vases to painters. Works of art in themselves, they are now too fragile to be handled by researchers. All were scanned in 1999 and linked to records held in the pottery database. Its records are linked to those of pottery in the Ashmolean Museum: between 2000 and 2001 Ian Hiley made more than 1300 digital images of the museum's Greek pottery.

The photographs of Athenian vases are the single largest component of Beazley's original archive. He collected them over more than 60 years; often they are the only record of lost or damaged vases. By the end of 2006 all of the original photographs had been scanned and incorporated into the pottery database, those of vases which Beazley had assigned to painters in Attic Black-figure Vase-painters (1956) and Attic Red-figure Vase-painters (1963), and those which Beazley had not assigned to painters and groups in these publications.

Different types of classical antiquities on a single website has encouraged the Archive to develop a means of searching across them to show students, for example, how certain mythological figures could be represented on vases, gems, and in sculpture. From 2000 it has worked with two centres - the Forschungsarchiv für antike Plastik in Cologne and Lexicon Iconographicum Mythologiae Classicae. This approach to using innovative technology to search across databases led to Professor Donna Kurtz's development of the CLAROS project.

The Beazley Archive's use of IT for the generation of publications began in 1982 with Beazley Addenda (British Academy and Oxford University Press). It has continued with two editions of Summary Guide to Corpus Vasorum Antiquorum (British Academy, 1984 and 2001) and developed into in-house publication of three new series - Studies in the History of Collections (from 2000) and Studies in Classical Archaeology (from 2002) and Studies in Gems and Jewellery (from 2003). Formats designed by the Archive are held in electronic shells that can be e-mailed to authors. Extensive catalogues can be published and illustrated versions can be mounted on the Beazley Archive web site. An example is the catalogue from Kurtz's Reception of Classical Art in Britain (volume one in Studies in the History of Collections) which has colour illustrations of nearly 900 casts in the Ashmolean Museum.

  • Photo of public monitor in gallery A view of the Cast Gallery with a monitor for the Beazley Archive's resources on sculpture in front of plaster casts from the Parthenon.

The development of electronic resources has been funded from outside grants since 1979, from the British Academy, The J. Paul Getty Trust, and European Commission, and AHRC.

The Beazley Archive has on-going and finite research projects, both its own and projects shared with other universities and research centres. The Pottery Database begun in 1979 and listing references to published illustrations of Athenian vases, is on-going. Closely related are two finite (2001-2004) projects. One is the electronic conversion of Henry Immerwahr's unpublished magnum opus - Corpus of Attic Vase Inscriptions (8000 records). The other concerns more than 300 out-of-print fascicules of Corpus Vasorum Antiquorum (CVA) which had been published under the aegis of the Union Académique Internationale since 1922. Between 2002-2004, with funds from The J.Paul Getty Trust and the British Academy, and with the collaboration of national committees for CVA overseas, an indexed and searchable publication of more than 250 digitised volumes was made available on CVAonline. Launched in October 2004 it is an illustrated catalogue of 100,000 ancient vases from more than 120 collections in 26 countries. The CVA project, is of particular importance because it provides an opportunity for museums to add new data and bibliography remotely, if they wish, thus establishing national data centres. National academies sent interns to Oxford to engage in the work. One of their tasks was the creation of multi-lingual thesauri. Both Immerwahr and CVA have been integrated into the pottery database.

Work on the Collection of Casts began in 1992 as part of a European Commission project with British Telecom to develop broadband networks, then in their infancy. Florence Maskell, under the direction of Prof. Donna Kurtz, identified and catalogued about 900 plaster casts from antique sculpture in the Ashmolean Museum. The catalogue was completed in 2000 and published in The Reception of Classical Art in Britain, an Oxford Story of Plaster Casts from the Antique. The Archive also has a collection of about 15,000 photographs of classical sculpture, mostly from Ashmole's negatives.

The collection of gem impressions was begun by Sir John Beazley and continued by Sir John Boardman. Since 2000 a number of 18th and 19th century collections have been made accessible on the Gems Database.

Back to top