2 minutes to read Posted on Monday January 11, 2021

Updated on Monday August 30, 2021

portrait of Jolan Wuyts

Jolan Wuyts

Collections Editor / V4 Design Project Coordinator , Europeana Foundation

#publicdomainday: a few of Europeana's public domain favourites, highlighted for you

With the 1st of January each year marking Public Domain Day, this month on Europeana Pro we are exploring the public domain and open access to cultural heritage. In this post, members of the Europeana Network Association Communicators and Copyright communities share some of their favourite public domain works available on the Europeana website.

A dog lying in a forest
Title: Dog in the Woods
Creator: Arnold Peter Weisz-Kubínčan
Date: ca. 1937
Institution: Slovak National Gallery
Country: Slovakia
Public Domain

At the start of every year, the cultural heritage world (along with many other sectors!) celebrates public domain day, as a variety of cultural heritage works that used to be protected by copyright enter the public domain. Exactly which works fall in the public domain is a difficult question to answer since legislation around copyright can be complex, specifically across borders. For European cultural heritage, most of the works that were created by authors that died in the year 1950 are now part of the Public Domain, as the general rule in the European Union is  that if an author of a work has died more than 70 years ago, that work becomes part of the Public Domain.

The copyright status of works isn't static and set in stone, and Public Domain Day is a yearly reminder of its ever-changing nature. The event invites us to re-evaluate the copyright status of works, update their status where needed and encourage other cultural heritage institutions to do the same for their collections. If you see a piece of cultural heritage that you expect to be in the public domain but has a different copyright status, it’s always a good idea to send the institution a friendly message asking them if the copyright tag on a piece of work is still valid, or if it needs updating!

Public Domain Day also gives us the opportunity to call attention to the value of digitising cultural heritage objects, and the opportunities for sharing and re-use of those objects that are created by making public domain cultural heritage available on platforms like Europeana. To celebrate this, we asked members of the Europeana Network Association Communicators and Copyright community Steering Groups to highlight a cultural heritage object in the public domain, and available for everyone through the Europeana website, that they find striking and wanted to share with others. Explore their picks below!

Peter Soemers, Chair of the Communicators Community: View of Haarlem with Bleaching Grounds, Jacob van Ruisdael

I love this painting, because it presents a landscape and a cityscape in one, with a beautiful sky full of clouds. It sheds shadow and light on different places, helping your gaze to walk through the different stages of the image. It is highly ‘zoomable’, enabling a mystery tour of the landscape with meadows, houses, people, laundry,  the churches, mills and houses of Haarlem, and the magnificent clouds.

View of Dutch landscape
Title: View of Haarlem with Bleaching Grounds
Creator: Jacob van Ruisdael
Date: 1675 - 1670
Institution: Mauritshuis
Country: Netherlands
Public Domain
View of Dutch landscape

Killian Downing, Communicators community Co-Chair: Giant’s Causeway, Ireland

This albumen print shows the naturally forming basalt rocks of the Giant's Causeway, Northern Ireland, c.1850-1870. This print is part of an album  transferred to the Rijksmuseum in 1994 and is now available in the Public Domain. Irish mythology tells of the giant Fionn Mac Cumhaill who built the Giant's Causeway as stepping stones to Scotland, so that he wouldn't get his feet wet. Legend has it Mac Cumhaill also ripped up part of Ireland, which is now Lough Neagh, to throw it at a rival giant, but it missed and it landed in the Irish Sea becoming the Isle of Man, and a pebble from the same becoming Rockall. The Giant's Causeway is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Naturally formed basalt blocks on the Giant's Causeway in Ireland
Title: Natuurlijk gevormde basaltblokken, vermoedelijk Giant's Causeway in Ierland
Date: c.1850 - c.1870
Institution: Rijksmuseum
Country: Netherlands
Public Domain
Naturally formed basalt blocks on the Giant's Causeway in Ireland

Susan Hazan, Communicators community Co-Chair: Colosseum, Rome, Elias (Elie) Smalhout

How on earth did we manage without our smartphones? This drawing of the Colosseum provides us food for thought about time. Not just about the historical time reflected in the crumbling stones of the Roman ruins, but the time it takes to document the details in a hand-drawn sketch. The coloured charcoal draws us into the shadows to trace the arches and to delight in the light that dances off the smooth stonework.  A celebration for the eye and the heart and an opportunity to appreciate the creativity of the artist and draftsman Smalhout, Elias (Elie) (1889-1939).

A sketch of the Colosseum
Title: Colosseum Rome
Creator: Smalhout, Elias (Elie) (1889-1939)
Date: 1923
Institution: Joods Historisch Museum
Country: Netherlands
Public Domain
A sketch of the Colosseum

Frederic Saunderson, Copyright Community Steering Group member: Medieval Irish, Communal Drinking Cup or Mether

I am particularly fascinated by this example of a communal drinking cup in the context of our current world of isolation, quarantine, and social distancing. What would the makers and users of this vessel have made of the limits placed on contact between people in today's Europe? With its multiple handles, this drinking cup neatly allows the viewer to imagine a multitude of hands and their owners sharing a collective drink. This 3D rendering on Europeana makes engaging with this item all the more dynamic during our current era of lockdowns.

A medieval Irish drinking cup

Marina Markellou, Copyright Community Steering Group member: Straw Hat of Nikolaos Lytras

This work is one of the most important drawings of early modernism in Greece but above all, it reminds me that summer is the best season of the year and summer in Greece is the best experience a person could ever have, especially in Tinos, the island of the artist. I look forward to a long-awaited summer there! 

A woman wearing a sunhat
Title: Το ψάθινο καπέλλο
Creator: Nikolaos Lytras
Date: ca 1925
Institution: National Gallery - Alexandros Soutsos Museum
Country: Greece
Public Domain
A woman wearing a sunhat

Evelin Heidel, Copyright Community Steering Group member: Mountain Meadow, Čordák, Ľudovít

There's so much content in Europeana that I love. I use it all the time for different purposes, including slideshow presentations and flyers. Last year, we used several of the landscapes selected as part of the galleries & featured content for the Copyright Community and Open GLAM webinar series, as a background for our flyers.

A meadow with mountains in the distance
Title: Mountain Meadow
Creator: Čordák, Ľudovít
Date: 1900/1930
Institution: Slovak National Gallery
Country: Slovakia
Public Domain
A meadow with mountains in the distance

Karin Glasemann, Chair of the Copyright Community: Girl Looking through a Telescope, Pietro Antonio Rotari

One of my all-time favourites is this painting. I like it because the girl seems full of curiosity and tries to see and understand things.

A girl looking through a telescope
Title: Girl Looking through a Telescope
Creator: Pietro Antonio Rotari
Institution: Nationalmuseum, Sweden
Country: Sweden
Public Domain
A girl looking through a telescope

Jolan Wuyts, Europeana Foundation: Dog in the Woods, Arnold Peter Weisz-Kubínčan

My own favourite image is the one that leads this article. With the world being as crazy as it is lately, I've been finding solace and peace in artwork that emanates homeliness, hygge, friendship, calm. This 'dog in the Woods' by Weisz-Kubínčan is a perfect example of this. I've been hiking a lot this past year, and by escaping my home office I feel like I can let myself be enveloped by nature, in the same way that the dog in the painting takes on the same colours and lines as the mountains around it. Weisz-Kubínčan was an important Jewish expressionist painter from Slovakia, a brilliant artist whose works emanate mysticism. He perished in a concentration camp near the end of the Second World War. A large swath of his paintings was saved by being stored in a suitcase. An exhibition on Weisz-Kubínčan called Artist´s (Heavy) Luggage was set up by the Slovak National Gallery in 2019. Maybe this peaceful dog was also one of the works kept safe in that suitcase?

A dog lying in a forest
Title: Dog in the Woods
Creator: Arnold Peter Weisz-Kubínčan
Date: ca. 1937
Institution: Slovak National Gallery
Country: Slovakia
Public Domain
A dog lying in a forest
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