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History of the collection

1. History of the collection

Photographs started arriving at the Biblioteca Nacional shortly after photography was made available to the public in 1839. In a few years, photographs began to appear in publications of various types, either illustrating texts or forming the entire contents of the book.

Some of the directors of the Biblioteca Nacional in the nineteenth century realised the potential of photography in the transmission of knowledge, and ensured that photographic images were part of its graphic and iconographic archives in the same way as other type of prints. They began to buy important published works that contained photographs, and soon copies of works such as Jerusalem, by A.. Salzmann (1856), or Cités et ruines americaines... by D. Charnay (1863) began to arrive. Works containing photographs also came from the Biblioteca Real, such as photographic souvenirs of the visit of the King and Queen of Spain and the Prince and Princess of Asturias to the provinces of Andalusia and Murcia... by C. Clifford (1862).

As a result of printing laws and the deposit of copyright act some photographers deposited photographs in the Library, and in 1866 a large deposit was made by the photographer J. Laurent. Not too many photographs arrived in this way because few photographers in Spain adhered to this particular law.

In 1871, convinced that photography should be well represented in the institution and that donations were infrequent and direct purchase at times expensive, J.E. Hartzenbusch resorted to a policy of exchange, and proposed a trade with the painter Manuel Castilian, owner of a splendid collection of more than 20,000 photographs, offering him duplicated and multiple prints owned by the Biblioteca Nacional; once the relevant authorisation was given the collection arrived at library. A second part of this collection was purchased from the painter's nephew after his death in 1880.

The Colección Castellano consists mainly of portraits and views, with most of the photographs displayed in albums. This is a unique collection of rare photographs of exceptional quality. The chronological period runs from 1853 to 1880, although the bulk of the collection is from 1855 to 1875.

Over the years other collections have been incorporated and also photographic archives, mostly portraits, following the custom of national libraries of collecting images of national personalities who have excelled in any field of history, science or art over time. In 1970, the collection of portraits of the Junta de Iconografía Nacional were deposited when this institution was dissolved. Also in 1963 a large collection of portraits was purchased featuring circus and stage personalities that belonged to Leonard Parish and later César Fernández Ardavín.

In 1980, the number of photographs was increased with the arrival of the so-called Archive of the Spanish Civil War from the "Civil War Section" of the Ministry of Information and Tourism.

In 1984, archives were acquired from the Amer-Ventosa photography studio in Madrid, consisting mainly of portraits of Spanish society from 1947 to 1979.

In 1989, to mark the 150th anniversary of photography, the archives preserved in this collection were presented and classified and structured to enable them to be consulted and properly preserved, while at the same time a guide-inventory of these archives was published describing the nature and content: 150 años de fotografía en la Biblioteca Nacional: guía-inventario de los fondos fotográficos.

In recent years the number of photographic assets at the Biblioteca Nacional has been increased by the purchase of works that bridge the gaps identified during the inventory, while pursuing a strategy of recovering assets in danger of dispersal that are considered important for the study of photography in Spain in the broadest sense.

2. The assets

BNE assets consist of hundreds of thousands of different kinds of photographs, most from the period spanning 1850 to 1990. Although gaps exist, it can be said that practically all the avenues of evolution and development of photography are represented.

The assets are structured primarily according to how they were created and the way in which they are presented: Books and loose photographs. There is an important number of books containing original photographs, either illustrating a text or forming the entire publication, some of which are of great importance in the history of photography. There are also a number of books illustrated with photographs printed using some of the techniques for transferring the photographic image to an engraving plate, the result of research conducted since 1850.

Collections of photographs are conserved in albums, some of which belonged to famous people of the nineteenth century such as the Colección Castellano, that of Eugenio Hartzenbush, Amador de los Rios, Narciso Hergueta, etc., and which mainly consist of portraits and other pictures taken by various photographers.

Among the loose photographs are important collections in which the photographs share a common link, being either the result of the commercial activities of a studio, or because they belong to a collection or archive on a particular topic. Among these collections it is possible to distinguish compilations of portraits such as that of the Junta de Iconografía Nacional, depicting Spanish personalities over the ages in the form of copies or direct portraits, or the photographs from the offices of the magazine Ilustración Española y Americana.

Among the subject-based sets is the Fernández Ardavín - Leonard Parish Collection, which includes hundreds of photographs of circus and stage personalities from various countries, mainly from 1880 to 1910. Also important is the so-called Civil War Archive, which includes thousands of photographs and is the result of several different photographic compilations made by propaganda agencies during and after the war (1936-1939), displaying the most varied themes from both fronts. Another important archive is the former Spanish protectorate in Morocco, which includes photographs from the first sixty years of the twentieth century and which brings together the photographic archives of the Directorate General for Morocco and the Colonies and those which came with the library of Don Tomás García Figueras, specializing in African subjects.

To these collections it is important to add the photographic archives comprising the material produced by particular photography studios. Here, we find the archives of the studios of Amer-Ventosa, Kâulak, V. Ibáñez and Gyenes. Other archives, albeit not as numerous as these, are those of Lagos and Edward Foertsch. In 2005 the archives of Calvache and Cecilio Paniagua were acquired. 

There is also a significant amount of independent photographs which do not belong to any particular collection and are physically "loose". This material is very diverse in terms of quality and interest, but there are a good number of photos of extraordinary value in many ways. This part of the archive is made up of more than 15,000 photographs, from daguerreotypes, calotypes, albumen papers, platinotypes, baryte papers, etc., through to modern media. In this part of the archive many of the photographers who worked in Spain in the nineteenth century are represented, including A. Alonso Martínez, J. Martínez Sánchez, José Mª Sánchez, F. and E. Debas, E. Beauchy, C. Alguacil, C.Franzen etc., particularly, in terms of the number of photographs: J. Laurent, and Charles Clifford. It can safely be said that the BNE is a point of reference for students of these latter. Foreign photographers are also represented, such as Carjat, Disderi, Ponti, A. Quinet, Anderson, Zangaki, etc., and of course, many of the photographs are anonymous or the author is unknown.

Information on consulting archives

Consultation the archive of 19th century photographs is restricted for preservation reasons. Most of these assets can be viewed on slides.

The archives of negatives may not be consulted directly; some of them are being reproduced digitally, and the Lagos archive of portraits is now available for consultation in the Goya Room.

The photographs corresponding to the archives of commercial photography studios are being sorted and inventoried and will not be fully available until the technical processing has been completed and they have been assigned a standardised call number.

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