Arts & Prints

References to art works—drawings, etchings, paintings, sculpture, architecture—are legion in Melville’s writings. As we edit each work, we assemble images for our contextual annotations in MEL’s content management tool MELCat. A sample of such images, accessed in the link to the right, is taken from our editing of Versions of Moby-Dick. Our larger aim is to curate these images for display, sorting, scholarly analysis, and comparison with images from Melville’s Print Collection.


A major MEL initiative has been to assemble digital images of Melville’s widely dispersed personal collection of art prints.

Melville’s father, Allan Melvill, purchased books and engravings on his travels to Europe before Melville was born. Herman adopted his father’s habit and added to the family collection art prints that he, too, purchased abroad and at home, late into his life. The Melville art print collection was dispersed among family members after Melville and his wife Elizabeth Shaw Melville died. Around 300 of the approximately 425 prints are located at the Berkshire Athenaeum; 70 others are in the Osborne Collection at Southwestern (TX) University and the Reese Collection of the Melville Society Archive at the New Bedford Whaling Museum’s Research Library. MEL has acquired digital images of the prints from all three institutions. Those on display in the link to the right are from the Osborne and Reese Collections. As a partner in the CEDAR digital initiative, MEL stores these images on University of Chicago’s OCHRE database.

Melville’s Print Collection Online (MPCO)

Melville scholars Robert K. Wallace and Samuel Otter along with web editor Emily Farrell are building a website, housed at the University of Northern Kentucky, that will draw upon MEL’s database to display, catalog, and interpret Melville’s 425 prints. Subtitled “A Pictorial Fusion of his Mind and Vision,” MPCO will demonstrate, in eight chapters, the range of Melville’s collecting from Ancient Greece and the Near East through the art of the major European national schools to the American nation of his own day. Drawing upon and updating Wallace’s scholarship recorded in a series of articles beginning in 1986, each chapter will show the intimate relation between Melville’s reading and writing and the artworks Melville saw around the world and collected in his own home.

MPCO expects to establish new opportunities for interoperability with MMO and MEL.