History of the Project

The Mellini Manuscript—An Art Collection Inventory and a Poem

The research project that resulted in this digital publication, Pietro Mellini’s Inventory in Verse, 1681: A Digital Facsimile with Translation and Commentary, focused on an unpublished seventeenth-century manuscript in the Special Collections of the Getty Research Institute (GRI): Pietro Mellini’s 1681 rhyming inventory of paintings and drawings in his family’s collection in Rome. The 1681 Mellini inventory is an unusual, hybrid document, at once a conventional inventory and a poetic text. The manuscript provides primary evidence for art historians, as well as other humanities and interdisciplinary scholars who focus on provenance research, collecting patterns and habits, the social construction of taste, textual analysis of historical documents, and the significance of cultural capital.

The Project

In 2010, co-principal investigators Nuria Rodríguez Ortega and Murtha Baca proposed to work collaboratively with other scholars to create a digital publication using technological tools and online resources focusing on the unpublished Mellini manuscript. This was not a project to build a database but rather to develop a collaborative digital working environment—and resulting publication—that captures the research behaviors and conversations of scholars and that links to relevant databases (such as the Getty’s Union List of Artist Names) and other digital resources, thereby creating a network of knowledge. The project to create the workspace was itself collaborative; scholars met regularly with a technical team to design and build a workspace that fit the needs of the research project. The working environment that grew out of this project, the Getty Scholars’ Workspace™, was released to the international humanities research community. We believe that the present publication shows how the use of technology can offer new opportunities for research, communication, and dissemination of primary source materials, and that it demonstrates the results of collaborative research.

Project Goals

The primary goals of the research project were

  1. to make a previously unpublished historical document freely available to scholars and researchers in art history and other disciplines in the humanities;
  2. to explore new methods and tools for research and dissemination; and
  3. to develop a model for humanities publications that incorporates facsimiles of primary source materials, images, bibliographic materials, and annotations to the research material. In this case, the ability for the project researchers to comment on the original Italian text, the English translation, and the list of artworks was an essential element of the project, which was also envisioned as a prototype to generate a model for online scholarly workspaces that can be used by the GRI and by the international community of scholars who are equally committed to the kind of collaborative, responsive knowledge-building that can be accomplished digitally. The digital environment that resulted from this project, the Getty Scholars’ Workspace, is currently undergoing additional development, including usability testing, before its general release to the international research community.

Research Questions

Several research questions raised by the 1681 Mellini manuscript were explored in the workspace. These and other issues were addressed in our many online conversations. (The workspace includes a “discussion forum” for informal exchanges among team members: these comments are not part of the final publication.) The brief essays in this publication address some of the major research topics, and the publication itself allows readers to explore their own research questions related to the manuscript and this period of history. Here are some of the questions that the project team addressed during the course of our research:

  • What was the purpose of the Mellini document? Who was its audience?
  • Why was this hybrid document created? What does it reveal about the artistic literature of the seventeenth century?
  • What is revealed by an examination of the language used in a text that is not a treatise per se?
  • What is the relationship between this 1681 verse inventory and the conventional legal inventory of the Mellini collection, written in 1680? How many of the works described in the verse inventory can be identified?
  • What is the relationship between the Mellini collection and works currently located in a variety of museums and other collections?
  • What do historical documents like the Mellini poem and the earlier, conventional inventory teach us about the function of works of art in the political, social, and diplomatic spheres of the period?
  • What does the document reveal about the art market during the late seventeenth century?
  • What do this text and similar documents reveal about the different roles of the work of art
    • as a literary construct?
    • as an artifact?
    • as an object of social status?
    • as an object with commercial value?
    • in the history of display?


This publication of the Getty Research Institute is a result of an active collaboration between the GRI and two institutional partners:

Nuria Rodríguez Ortega, professor and chair of the art history department at the University of Málaga and the co-principal investigator on this project, who discovered the 1681 Mellini manuscript in the GRI’s Special Collections, and together with Murtha Baca, head of the GRI’s digital art history program, proposed the idea of a digital critical facsimile edition.

The Seaver Institute provided generous partnership grants to the GRI in 2014 and 2015. These grants supported development and advancement of the Getty Scholars’ Workspace, the online environment in which the research for this publication was conducted.

Publication Information

The URL for this publication is: http://hdl.handle.net/10020/mellini

To cite this publication, use the following format:
Baca, Murtha, et. al., Pietro Mellini's Inventory in Verse, 1681: A Digital Facsimile with Translation and Commentary (Los Angeles: Getty Research Institute, 2015), http://hdl.handle.net/10020/mellini.

The ISBN for Pietro Mellini's Inventory in Verse, 1681 is