Derivative Narratives: The Multiple Lives of a Masterpiece on the Internet

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Over the last three decades, the digitisation of art collections has become a priority for an increasing number of museums all over the world. Regarded as a means of promoting public access to culture, the dissemination of collections on the Internet has also proven to be crucial for communicating with different audiences. Through museum websites, social media and common platforms—such as Google Arts & Culture or Europeana—digital images are now made widely accessible and come to acquire a life of their own; a life that transcends the original artwork, as it takes place largely outside the institutional sphere. Moreover, the open online circulation of these reproductions paves the way for multiple uses, reinterpretations and recreations. In this article, I will discuss the creative potential of open access to art collections, questioning whether museums are effectively dealing with these new cultural dynamics because, although many of these experiments can easily be found by browsing the Internet, they are rarely accessible through institutional channels. After a brief contextualisation, the text focuses on an emblematic case‐study: The Portrait of Giovanna Tornabuoni by Domenico Ghirlandaio, housed at the Thyssen‐Bornemisza Museum in Madrid. My research involves a comprehensive online tracking of artistic projects either inspired by or derived from this Renaissance masterpiece. Based on a critical analysis of Internet sources, as well as interviews with the museum and the artists themselves, I argue that exploring the links between institutional and alternative narratives contributes to multiple visions of the collections and fosters digital engagement.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)22-33
Number of pages12
JournalMuseum International
Issue number1-2
Publication statusPublished - 2018


  • Digitisation
  • art collections
  • Open access
  • Algorithms
  • derivative work
  • Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum
  • Giovanna Tornabuoni
  • Ghirlandaio


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