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DigiCULT 21
(ECA) project did as a result of its initial phase of
development. For a short time, twelve months in all,
specialists in Renaissance art history came together to
consider the possibility of using a Web-based catalo-
guing tool to contribute information to a shared
repository of knowledge that would begin to expose
the large body of knowledge about the Este family
and their art collections.
This group of distinguished scholars, along with
a technical and managerial team, agreed to:
| develop an online scholarly catalogue having as its
point of reference the relationship between the
person who commissioned and/or collected the
work of art, the purpose of its creation, its physical
characteristics, and artistic significance;
| use a common set of descriptive standards rooted
in scientific and scholarly research;
| use a multilingual approach to content develop-
ment, presentation, search and retrieval
of information;
| use Web-based cataloguing and presentation tools.
The art history community has not actively
participated in a collaboration such as that which
took place within the context of the ECA. Much
of what is available online under the heading of art
history can be categorised as catalogue entries
presented on a museum Website to accompany an
exhibition, or as support materials, a set of links with
long descriptive summaries of themes used for
teaching. [2] Research into the vast holdings of fine
arts museums such as those represented by the ECA
project partners continues to be published primarily
in book form: the exhibition catalogue that generally
involves several scholars publishing joint articles,
catalogues raisonné that delve into the complete
oeuvre of a single artist with detailed descriptions
of the works of art, the history of their ownership,
and current location, as well as critical essays written
primarily for other art historians.
For scholars who are also curators of collections,
research is also carried out to document collections,
validate potential acquisitions, relate objects to other
objects in the museum's collection, and much more.
The ECA project asked scholars to share their exper-
tise and their research publicly and to emphasise the
importance of the person who collected or com-
missioned the work, rather than the artist who
created it or the museum where it resides.This
approach was new and unique and represented a
step away from traditional practice.
Like many documentation projects, the ECA project
required a common set of descriptive standards that
met community-specific requirements. Rather than
defining the visitor to the Website in a generic sense,
the ECA project identified its primary contributor of
information and reader of content as a scholar of art
history and subsequently defined a descriptive voca-
bulary that was meaningful for them.This placing
of both the contributor and consumer of information
at the centre of the discussion also helped keep the
focus narrow and the data structure uncluttered.
To begin the process, partners were asked to first
identify the types of objects to be included in the
initial version of the virtual collection and to agree
on a comprehensive set of elements to describe
them.The initial list of identified works included
paintings, sculpture, tapestries, medals, ceramics,
jewellery, miniatures, musical instruments, and arms
and armour.To determine the descriptive elements,
partners were asked to consider how best to describe
the objects in terms of physical, contextual and
administrative characteristics. For example, what
is required in order to provide an art historical
description, define the relationship between the
artwork and a member of the Este family, provide
a history of where the object has been since it left
the Este Court, and what known scholarship
currently exists about the object?
Existing standards were reviewed and used
where applicable. For example, subject keywords a
re associated with the Iconclass standard while The
Art and Architecture Thesaurus and the Categories
Figure 2: Entry for the artist Battista Dossi from the ECA
virtual collection
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