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Ornamental Engravings Collection

The Kunstbibliothek’s Collection of Ornament Prints is the largest of its kind in the world. Its roots lie in the private collection of the French architect Hippolyte Destailleur, which was acquired in 1879 for the library of the German Design Museum (Deutsches Gewerbe-Museum zu Berlin). From the outset, the term 'ornament print' was broadly defined, so that apart from graphic ornamental designs for use in all decorative arts, it has also been applied to pictorial and written source material on art theory, the study of perspective and proportion, iconography and iconology, on applied emblematics (such as emblem books), calligraphy, and treatises.

At the outbreak of the Second World War, the Collection of Ornament Prints was packed into 160 crates and stored in the basement of the German Design Museum, known today as the Gropius Bau. The catalogue of 1939 lists some 5369 titles and 140 further accessions. Six years later, half the bound series of engravings and source texts were lost, including all large-scale volumes. The Kunstbibliothek is still trying to fill these gaps even now, some seventy years later. Since 1945, it has managed to acquire all important standard texts and masterworks on the history of European ornamental designs.

The works of French designers of the 17th and 18th century form a particular focus in the collection: Jean le Pautre, Jean Bérain, Daniel Marot, Jean Antoine Watteau, and Juste Aurèle Meissonnier. German Rococo ornament printmaking is impressively demonstrated in several series of engravings by François de Cuvilliés, Franz Xaver Habermann, Johann Esaias Nilson, and Jeremiah Wachsmuth. The collection is furthermore enriched by the writings of Italian architects of the 15th to 17th century, whose texts were embellished with engravings. These include works by Leone Battista Alberti, Sebastiano Serlio, Giacomo Barozzi da Joseph, Andrea Palladio, Andrea Pozzo, Germani Boffrond, and Jacques-François Blondel.

Invaluable source material for research into topography and historical monuments is found in topographical views such as those by Matthes Daniel Pöppelmann depicting the Dresden Zwinger, Karl Friedrich Schinkel’s collection of architectural designs, and the Venetian vedute of Antonio Canaletto. Among the most important publications on archaeological topography are a collection of depictions of Roman buildings and artworks from the second half of the 16th century, the ‘Speculum Remus Magnificentiae’ by the French-born engraver and publisher active in Rome, Antonio Lafreri, as well as the works of Giovanni Battista Piranesi, first published in Rome in 1748.

The Collection of Ornament Prints is also a brilliant fund of source material on the history of the depiction of the human form. The Kunstbibliothek has thus made its holdings of orament prints available online as examples of 'abstraction before abstraction,' in a joint, EU-funded project held in conjunction with the Museum of Decorative Arts in Prague and the MAK in Vienna. The project 'Ornamental Prints – Dissemination of design from the Renaissance to the Biedermeier period' views ornamentation not as a subsidiary topic, but a central phenomenon in the history of art.

All library and collection objects are stored at the Kulturforum and are available to view in the Kunstbibliothek’s study room. For some objects prior registration is required.