Visual Prints

Portrait print of Ira Aldridge as Othello.Visual prints are pictorial works produced by transferring images from a matrix such as a metal plate, wood block, or lithography stone onto a surface, generally paper. Portrait prints of performers and scene prints from productions were commonly produced as souvenirs and documents of performance before photography became the primary visual medium.

Searching for Visual Prints

To search for visual prints, go to the Advanced Search page in HOLLIS. Select Library Catalog from the Search for: options, change Keywords Anywhere to Form/Genre in the dropdown menu next to the first search box, and enter Prints (visual works):

Screenshot of a search for visual prints.

You can then use the second search box to search for a name, production title, or other term relevant to your research.

Two large portrait collections in the Harvard Theatre Collection do not yet have finding aids. If you are looking for images of performers from the 18th or 19th centuries they can be useful resources, but will not show up in searches for specific names:

Visual prints were also used as illustrations in printed books, sheet music covers, and many other contexts. When searching for imagery from the 19th century and earlier it can be fruitful to consult these resources as well. A useful reference resource for locating images used in this context is Jowers and Cavanagh's Theatrical Costume, Masks, Make-up, and Wigs: a Bibliography and Iconography.

Lillian Arvilla Hall's Catalogue of Dramatic Portraits in the Harvard Theatre Collection of the Harvard College Library can be useful for finding descriptions of portrait prints that were in the collection as of its publication in the 1930s. Unfortunately, there are no call numbers listed in this source, so some detective work is still necessary to find the original prints in the library.