a New Online Art Discovery Tool

The New York Times wrote yesterday of a new start-up called, which is digitizing works of fine art to catalog in its database, called the “Art Genome Project”. Their service is similar to Pandora, which mapped a “music genome” in order to encourage user discovery of new songs, or Netflix, which uses algorithms to predict and suggest films and movies a user might like. already has 20,000 images in their database, is partnering with galleries, museums, and other cultural institutions to increase their catalog. In addition to traditional subject, genre, and period/movement based descriptions,’s team is also tagging works with categories that their system will use “to make connections that are seemingly from different worlds.” These categories include ideas such as “focus on the social margins,” or “personal histories,” and “private spaces.” The system will also search for images that are most similar in terms of composition and color, providing yet another way to access different images.

For more information, see’s blog or visit the website, where you can request a login or browse the beta site.

Via New York Times

The Rembrandt Database

Screenshot from The Rembrandt Database

For years Rembrandt’s paintings have been the subject of many exhibitions and publications and a specific focus of technical research, which has produced an extensive and wide-ranging body of information and documentation. This material is preserved in various museums, research institutes, archives and laboratories around the world. The documentation is generally difficult to access, still unavailable in digital form, and not yet organized as a coherent and interrelated body of material.

The Rembrandt Database is a sustainable repository of existing information and documentation that is made available in a technologically advanced way. This service does not aim to replace the study of original objects or consultation among colleagues, but rather to speed up and facilitate research.

For more information and to explore the database, view the website.



Tate’s Gallery of Lost Art

"Erased" section of the Gallery of Lost Art

The Gallery of Lost Art is an online exhibition that tells the stories of artworks that have disappeared. Destroyed, stolen, discarded, rejected, erased, ephemeral—some of the most significant artworks of the last 100 years have been lost and can no longer be seen.

This virtual year-long exhibition explores the sometimes extraordinary and sometimes banal circumstances behind the loss of major works of art. Archival images, films, interviews, blogs and essays are laid out for visitors to examine, relating to the loss of works by over 40 artists across the twentieth century, including such figures as Marcel Duchamp, Joan Miro, Willem de Kooning, Rachel Whiteread and Tracey Emin.

Jennifer Mundy, curator of The Gallery of Lost Art, says: “Art history tends to be the history of what has survived. But loss has shaped our sense of art’s history in ways that we are often not aware of. Museums normally tell stories through the objects they have in their collections. But this exhibition focuses on significant works that cannot be seen.”


The virtual exhibition launched on July 2, 2012, and will be available online for only one year before it too is “lost.” A new artwork will be added each week for 6 months.

3D Reconstruction of Vermeer

An interdisciplinary team in Dresden has visualized Vermeer’s painting Girl Reading a Letter by an Open Window in 3D. The project makes use of X-ray and microscopic examinations of the painting, computational reconstructions of 2D space depicted in the painting, 3D animations, scale and lifesize models, costume and makeup reconstructions, and more.

The reconstruction has been used to analyze various aspects of the painting and related works by the artist, including the construction of perspective and atmosphere in his paintings, the use of technical and visual aids, and Vermeer’s work and living environment.

For more information, see the project website.

Medieval Plant Survey

The Medieval Plant Survey is a crowd-sourced medieval herbiary. With help from Flickr, it pairs contemporary photographs of plants with medieval manuscript illustrations to create a collaborative reference resource. For more information about the project, click here.

Innovative GIS Projects in the Humanities

Below is a list of humanities-related Geographic Information System projects and their potential applications. Do you know of another exciting project to add to the list? Please let us know!

Project list compiled by VRC staff member Helenmary Sheridan.

Google Lit Trips

Developer: Various contributors; Jerome Burg, site editor

Discipline: Literature

(View of the “A Portrait of the Artist As a Young Man” Lit Trip, by David Herring)

(“The Grapes of Wrath” Lit Trip in Google Earth, by Jerome Burg)

What it does: Contributors have mapped the journeys of fictional characters on modern and historical maps supplied by Google in Google Maps and Google Earth. These maps can be saved and shared, along with accompanying text and images that also use Google-supplied tools. Routes can cross a single city or whole continents, and users who have downloaded multiple datasets can compare journeys.

How it does it: Google Maps, Google Earth

What this could be adapted for: This is itself an adaptation of a familiar use of GIS. Similar projects could follow the movement of an artist on the Grand Tour, a specific artwork from collection to collection, or a book from its author to printer to eventual reader.

Mapping the Republic of Letters

Developer: Dan Edelstein and Paula Findlen, Stanford Humanities Center

Discipline: Literature, History

What it does: The Republic of Letters project maps the physical locations of 6,400 correspondents from 1629 to 1824 and the routes of 55,000 letters and documents exchanged among them. A histogram reveals that the 1760s were peak years for the correspondence recorded in the Electronic Enlightenment database; London and Paris were the top cities of correspondence, and Voltaire, Rousseau, and Locke were the top three letter-writers of the entire period (though Voltaire received very few in return.) The map can display connections between correspondents, city-dots by correspondence volume, routes marked according to their traffic frequency, and a writer vs. writer comparison view. Users can also filter the data by correspondent, choosing between sender or receiver. Finally, data periods on the histogram are adjustable, and a play button allows the user to move through time year-by-year.

How it does it: Probably visualization software and staff-developed tools. A much rougher tool along the same lines could be made with ArcGIS, which is used at the University of Chicago.

What this could be adapted for: Correspondence of any time and place, or exchanges of sketches, trade routes, any other documented physical object; which contemporaries authors cite in their manuscripts, the dissemination of news stories, who marries whom in dynastic marriages…

The Map of Early London

Developer: Janelle Jenstad, University of Victoria

Discipline: History/Humanities (English literature)

What it does: Toggle-controlled layers displaying roads, building names, ward boundaries, and other points of interest from the late sixteenth to early seventeenth centuries are built on top of the 1560s Agas map. Querying a site will load information about it in a separate window, either a modern history and description or a transcription from contemporary sources that reference it.

How it does it: The map was built with ka-map, which allows for selectable layers, legends, zooming, and panning. Both the original, non-layered map and the more complicated “experimental” version are several years old.

What this could be adapted for: This sort of map/layer/content setup is ideal for connecting texts or images to specific locations, though probably most useful in a limited geographic context like a city. The Map of Early London points out Shakespeare’s theatres and places important to Renaissance drama, but a similar map could go further and build layers associating printers’ shops with particular writers, grouping contemporary performances together in a layer separate from performances a decade later, or go in a non-theatrical direction and study artist-client relationships within Florence, for example, and the network of tradesmen who supplied the artists.

Digital Atlas of Roman and Medieval Civilization

Developer: Michael McCormick and Guoping Huang, Harvard University

Discipline: Archaeology/History

What it does: The atlas compiles a huge amount of information about Roman and medieval sites throughout Europe, the Near East, and North Africa from archaeology and literature, then presents them in an interface. Cities are color-coded according to certainty about their location, but not sorted according to era or culture; though the user can view overlays of kingdoms at the same time, it’s not possible to drag layers so that one overlays the other. Querying points brings up identification, labels visible only at maximum zoom.

How it does it: ArcGIS, the same software used on the University of Chicago campus.

What this could be adapted for: Any sort of atlas project with various sources of data displayed at once.

The Geography of Art: Imaging the Abstract with GIS

Developer: Jim Coddington, MoMA

Discipline: Art History

What it does: Coddington’s team adapted imaging techniques usually used in GIS to photograph terrain, instead turning it on a Pollock canvas to photograph paint clusters and specific pigments that can be distinguished with multi-spectral imaging. Their results, while preliminary, show that GIS techniques can successfully isolate paint based on texture, pigment, or location, characteristics sometimes invisible to the naked eye or to other imaging techniques. Though Coddington does not discuss this aspect, their integration of GIS imaging and atwork also raises the possibility of treating a canvas itself like a map, placing features of a painting on a sort of coordinate grid and then drawing spatial relationships between them.

How it does it: Multispectral imaging and mosaic software.

What this could be adapted for: The imaging technique is applied here uniquely to art history, but the idea of georeferencing locations on an artwork could be applied to the printed page as an alternative to conventional hypertext. Within art history, underdrawings and a final painting could be distinct layers on a “map” of the artwork, with location labels providing more information on technique or any element of interest. Or, using a Pollock as an example, the georeferenced location of paint globs could lead to a model of the artist’s hand movement.


Highlighting the Digital Humanities

The article “Digital Keys for Unlocking the Humanities’ Riches” recently published in the New York Times discusses the growing importance of data and technology to research in the humanities.

The next big idea in language, history and the arts? Data.

The focus on digital humanities is timely; this weekend the Visual Resources Center and the Division of the Humanities are co-sponsoring, along with the Newberry Library and Northwestern University, the very first THATCamp Chicago. THATCamp Chicago is a user-generated “unconference” where humanists and technologists work together for the common good. For more information, click here.

See also the University of Chicago Press’ recent blog entry exploring the top five recent books about new methodologies in the digital humanities.

THATCamp Chicago Now Accepting Applications

Northwestern University Libraries and Departments of Gender Studies and English in partnership with The University of Chicago Division of the Humanities and The Newberry Library are pleased to announce the first THATCamp Chicago. THATCamp Chicago 2010 will be held on Saturday, November 20 at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois. Applications will be accepted until October 1, 2010.

Over the past few years, the Center for History and New Media has been helping to organize a series of “unconferences” called THATCamp (“The Humanities and Technology Camp.”)  These unconferences are based on the idea that some of the most productive work of conferences happens in the hallways and in more informal gatherings.  With this in mind THATCamp is based on conversations and not the delivery of papers.  They are “lightweight” and are paid for, in part, by attendee donations.

The structure of the conference is decided when everyone arrives, and applications do not include a paper proposal.  Instead, applicants explain why they want to attend and explain current projects on which they might like to collaborate.  In addition, some THATCamps include a “Bootcamp,” which is a series of workshops that teach concrete tools or skills.  These workshops are designed for beginners, and the hope is that attendees leave with something new to tinker with. THATCamp Chicago is planning a Bootcamp that may include workshops on Processing, Omeka, Geographic Information Systems, and Design Tools for the Digital Humanities.

Find out more at

JSAH Online to Include Video, Virtual Modeling and More

The Society of Architectural Historians (SAH) has developed a new platform for its online journal. The online version of the Journal of the Society of Architectural Historials (JSAH) will support video, dynamic images, virtual modeling, and digital mapping. JSAH Online will only be available to SAH members during 2010, with independent subscriptions beginning in 2011. A sample article showing some of the journal’s capabilities is currently online. See Inside Higher Ed for more information.