The University of Antwerp Library’s collection contains about 1350 prints in various techniques, in addition to other objects, related to Antwerp from between the 15th and 21st centuries. The library recently completed a major description and digitization project, which means everyone now has online access to all of these valuable prints.
By the end of the 1920s, Father Ferdinand Peeters, a member of Antwerp's Jesuit community, had put together a rich collection of prints related to Antwerp. They were originally intended to decorate the corridors of what was then the Handelshogeschool, or College of Commerce, which was initially located on Korte Nieuwstraat but subsequently moved to the restored Hof van Liere on Prinsstraat in 1932. Even today, around 80 prints are still on permanent display there. The majority of the collection is now stored and managed by the University of Antwerp Library’s department of Special Collections, which is responsible for valuable and fragile items.
In 2012, the library launched a project to build a digitized archive of this unique collection in order to better understand its value and make it available to researchers. In collaboration with project member Dr Karen Bowen, Anet, the library automation service, developed a software module which enabled her to record basic information about the prints and add a description containing information about each print's artist, date of production, and so on. The department of Special Collections also scanned nearly all prints so that every description could include a link to a high-quality image. At the end of this process, each print was assigned a unique number and a permanent place in the library's archives, where they are conserved in custom-made acid-free folders.
Following the project’s completion in January 2015, the public version of the print module was also made freely available. Users can now peruse the entire catalogue of the University of Antwerp’s Prints Room, which contains about 1350 items by over 700 artists, printers and publishers. The artworks include prints, woodcuts, engravings and lithographs as well as drawings, paintings and photos. About 85% of the collection has been digitized. Duplicate items and items judged to be too fragile were not scanned. The oldest item is a woodcut dating from 1493, while the most recent is a 2010 relief print by Luc Tuymans.
The preserved prints, print series and book illustrations mainly portray Antwerp's history. As a result, if you type in "Antwerp" as a keyword, the search will generate about 1000 hits. The results can then be narrowed further using a number of criteria. Besides various maps, there are images of buildings and places such as St. Charles Borromeo's Church and St. James's Church, Grote Markt and the town hall, and of course the city's port and cathedral. The majority of the collection dates from after 1550 and the Napoleonic years.
The provision of access to the Prints Room and the digitization of almost the entire collection form part of the University of Antwerp Library's academic mission as well as its heritage activities. While the University Library obviously caters to historians and other researchers, it also wishes to allow the public to access these special materials. Have you ever wondered what the Meir looked like in the early 18th century? Or Antwerp's Stock Exchange before the fire of 1858? Do you want to find out what the Prints Room can tell you about the German Zeppelins of 1914 or the 1930 World Expo? Then have a look at https://anet.be/opac/opacuaobj/E