Citation, Documentation of Sources

Q. When using a picture of an item in a museum’s collection, how would one appropriately give credit and cite the work? For instance, a Japanese censer with no known sculptor or year of creation.

A. When citing an item in a museum collection, it is usually enough simply to describe it either in a caption or in the text and give credit to the museum. Museum websites usually do most of the work for you. For example, here’s a public-domain image from the website of the Metropolitan Museum of Art:

Borrowing from the museum’s information for the image (which does not cite a creator), your caption might read as follows:

Japanese censer, 19th century (Edo period), stoneware with inlaid design (Yatsushiro ware), 8.3 × 11.1 × 5.7 cm (ht. × rim diam. × foot diam.), Metropolitan Museum of Art.

In the text your description would be more straightforward: “The censer, a nineteenth-century example from the Edo period (1615–1868) in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, . . .” If the lack of a known creator is relevant to the discussion, that can also be mentioned. Artworks don’t usually need to be included in a bibliography, but if you were to include them for any reason, the entry for this one could be listed under the description of the work:

Japanese censer. 19th century. Stoneware with inlaid design (Yatsushiro ware), 8.3 × 11.1 × 5.7 cm (ht. × rim diam. × foot diam.). Metropolitan Museum of Art.

For additional examples, see CMOS 14.235. Note that images that are not in the public domain may require permission before they can be reproduced in your work (see CMOS 4.95–105).