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Books from the Met, Unsorted

May 21, 2014 | by

A Stallian, Habiballah of Sava, 1601-6

Habiballah of Sava, A Stallion, 1601-6

A Prospect of the City of London, Westminster and St James Park, Johannes Kip, 1710

Johannes Kip, from A Prospect of the City of London, Westminster and St. James Park, 1710

Camera Work, No. 14

Alfred Stieglitz, Camera Work, No. 14, 1906

Alphone J Lie'bert Barracks Post, Place de la Bastille Canal Tunnel and July Column, 1871

Alphonse J. Liébert, Barracks Post, Place de la Bastille; Canal Tunnel and July Column, 1871

bauhaus archive Gertrud Preiswerk

Gertrud Preiswerk, from the Bauhaus Archive

La Caricature Charles Philipon 1830-35

From La Caricature, a journal founded by Charles Philipon, 1830-35

Fishes

Fishes, Seki Shūkō, from the Meiji period (1868–1912)

Le Jardin des Supplices Octave-Henri-Marie Mirbeau, 1902

Le Jardin des Supplices, Octave-Henri-Marie Mirbeau, 1902

Manuscript Illumination with the Visitation in an Initial D from a Choir Book late 19th c

Manuscript Illumination with the Visitation in an Initial D, from a choir book, late nineteenth century

The Singer of Amun Nany's Funerary Papyrus

The Singer of Amun Nany’s Funerary Papyrus, c. 1050 BC

Two Lovers in a Landscape, 17th c, Iranian

Artist unknown, Two Lovers in a Landscape, seventeenth century, Iranian

Yesterday, the Met released nearly four-hundred thousand images—394,253, if you’re counting—into the public domain. Verily this is a horn of digital plenty, and the museum has made it easy, even fun, to peruse: users can sort the images by artist, maker, culture, method, material, geographical location, date, era, or department. To give you a sense of the collection’s scope, I sorted it, not especially imaginatively, to show only books, which left me with an unwieldy 2,701 results—and then I dove in. Above are a few of the more striking images I found, all of them deeply miscellaneous.

There’s something enjoyable in a stochastic approach to browsing, though you’d be right to call it dilettantish. The pieces I found have nothing in common—no cultural background, no thematic unity, no philosophy or aesthetic, no chronology, not even a shared mode of production—except that they all come from books, and they were all created by, you know, the people of Earth. Imagine wandering a library in complete disarray, with no organizing principle and no particular ambition: all the context disappears, along with most notions of the cumulative, but it’s hard not to come away feeling humbled by the vastness of artistic accomplishment. If this is a cheap kind of awe, it doesn’t feel that way; a few minutes of randomized images did wonders for my sense of humanism, and I saw only an infinitesimal fraction of the collection.

You can peruse the Met’s online collection here, as purposely or as arbitrarily as you’d like. Bookmark it and return whenever you’re feeling misanthropic.

6 COMMENTS

4 Comments

  1. Kulk | May 21, 2014 at 3:02 pm

    I’d like to see you browse for 24 hours and come up with your top 25 images.

  2. Dan Piepenbring | May 21, 2014 at 3:06 pm

    I’m game, as long as the twenty-four hours aren’t consecutive…

  3. John Michael | May 21, 2014 at 4:55 pm

    Was afraid this post was on its way to being ironically dilettante until, bam, this sentence: “If this is a cheap kind of awe, it doesn’t feel that way; a few minutes of randomized images did wonders for my sense of humanism”. Yes. Totally agree.

    Reminds me of browsing old, used postcards (’20s-’40s) in a flea market in Paris. There was limited organization to the thousands of items in the selection, and each new drawing yielded a new totally-out-of-context glimpse into some traveler’s hand-written message home. I bought 10 without looking.

  4. Drew Byrne | May 23, 2014 at 6:24 am

    Ah, all this “arty-farty stuff”! You know, one day it’s all going to go “poof!”

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