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Research Guides

Guides to areas of research associated with the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Collections Search

The MFA's Collections Search is an online database of accessioned objects in the MFA's collections. You can also access this feature by selecting Collections from the drop-down menu on the MFA's home page.

Using the accession number for the object is the best and easiest way to search for a specific item. The accession number can be found on object labels in the galleries or in the caption of images in MFA materials. (Tip: the first digits often refer to the year the object was accessioned into the collection. For example accession number 11.1738 was accessioned in 1911) If you do not have the accession number, you can search using a variety of keywords including:

  • title (e.g. covered bowl, writing desk, or Torah finial)
  • artist/maker (including painters, designers, sculptors, publishers, fashion houses, workshops, factories, and artist collectives)
  • date range
  • culture (i.e. language groups, tribes, and peoples)
  • medium or technique (e.g. oil on canvas, ink on paper, copper, glass, woodblock, or embroidered)
  • credit line (i.e. through a purchase, bequest, or gift)
  • provenance (i.e. sale, inheritance, or donation)

The Collections Search has some limitations and we advise reading this Guide to Searching the Collections for tips and tricks as well as the most successful results. 

MFA Publications

The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston publishes materials related to the institution and its collection including books, exhibition catalogs, online publications, annual reports, and bulletins. Most of these are not openly available online but you can search for them in the MFA Library Catalog and make an appointment to consult the materials or search for them in Worldcat to see if you can borrow them locally or via interlibrary loan.

Types of MFA Publications

The series MFA Highlights consists of guides to the permanent collection that highlights objects in the MFA's collection based on specific collection areas. You can search the MFA Library Catalog with the subject "mfa highlights" to see all the books in this series. 

Many exhibitions have accompany exhibition catalogs that explore the exhibition and the works on display. These can be searched in the MFA Library Catalog by title. Often, the title of the exhibition is the same or largely similar to the title of the catalog. You can view MFA publications that are in print and available for purchase here