The photograph archive numbers 290,000 photos of art works and monuments. For the most part they are black and white prints on paper (gelatin silver prints, albumen prints, carbon prints, collotypes), with a smaller section of colour prints and slides, coming from State photography archives (Fototeca Nazionale, Soprintendenze), italian and foreign museums, private archives and collections.
On 24th March 1947, Federico Zeri wrote to Berenson to confess that his photograph library was still "small and ill-organized". It was around the same time that clarity and order were given to the ambitious project that would result in one of the world's most complete private archives for the art history sector. Over the years whole photograph collections previously owned by scholars, auction houses and antique dealers were saved by Zeri from dispersion or destruction. He collected photographic campaigns, complete with paintings, on historic building complexes and fresco cycles. Many important works that have now been irretrievably lost or have sunk without trace are only documented by photos from his archive. In common with other famous international connoisseurs like Bernard Berenson and Roberto Longhi, Federico Zeri found the photograph archive a sine qua non for philological analysis of artworks. But unlike other scholars’ archives which sprang up as a natural extension of their research, Zeri’s photograph collection grew to a more broad-ranging and systematic plan.
Besides its rich Italian painting collection (148,000 photographs), the archive contains sizable core collections covering the applied arts (18,000 photos), archaeology (3,600), architecture (8,800), italian sculpture (16,000), drawings (12,700), miniatures (5,500), besides icons and trompe l’oeil. Though Zeri was not to pursue these areas in depth, it shows the breadth of his interests and the indefatigable curiosity and passion that drove him.
Perhaps the richest and most valuable such core collection is the one on Italian and European still lifes (14,000 photos).