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published: March 2004
analytic scripts updated:
November 7, 2010

Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0  License

Multilingual database for the Fine Arts Museums of Belgium, Brussels
Pierre-Yves Desaive, Fine Arts Museum of Belgium, Belgium

Demonstration: Your Colleagues - 1

The Royal Fine Arts Museums of Belgium (Brussels) have designed a database format for the informatisation and management of museum collections, based on the recommendations and international standards of the Categories for the Description of the Works of Art (Getty Institute). This description format has been implemented into a very powerful search engine, giving access to the database on the Intranet and the Internet through a user friendly interface. Its unique international selling proposition consists of its systematic trilingual (English/French/Dutch) or bilingual (French/Dutch) treatment of the information - a requirement due to the fact that both French and Flemish are official languages in Belgium, whereas museums operate more and more on an international scale, e.g. while organizing international exhibitions with partner museums abroad.

The format has been named "Fabritius", referring to the 17th century Dutch painter Carel Fabritius (1622-1654), and is an acronym for "Fine Arts BRussels InTernet and Intranet USers". Indeed, the main goal of the database is to give access to the database of the collections through a network, either the Internet or the museum's Intranet. In doing so we want to respond to the information needs of both the users external to the museum (the general public as well as the scholar and the student), and the internal users (those responsible for the collection within the museum organization). This project supported by funds from the Federal Office for Scientific, Technical and Cultural Affairs is the result of a partnership between the Royal Fine Arts Museums of Belgium and Geac Computer Corporation Ltd ; the Fabritius format has been implemented in Vubis Smart, a post-relational database management software. It is client-server oriented, and has a built-in web interface. The client interface is used by the database management team to input data, while the users can retrieve information through the web interface. Users within the museum can post their comments on a specific Intranet site, allowing the management team to correct, if necessary, the information before it is available to the public. There are several web interfaces, each one of them corresponding to an authorization level, ranking from 0 (Internet access) to 4 (head curator).

Another key feature of Vibes Smart, is its flexibility. One format can be divided into categories, each one of them containing the field s features. This conforms precisely to one of the recommendations of the Categories for the Description of the Works of Art, i.e. to divide the data into categories, according to their specific nature. Fabritius is composed of 24 categories, for a total of 164 fields, allowing either a very basic, or a complete description of a work of art. For instance, one category, containing 14 fields, gathers the basic information such as inventory number, title, name of the creator(s), object type, &, while another category contains fields for the iconographic description in three levels (description, identification and interpretation). With that structure, there are no 'blank' fields : categories can be added in one work s description as more information is being gathered.

The format makes a large use of authority lists 40 in total linked to several fields (artist's name, object type, place of creation, &). These lists are based on thesauri such as the Art and Architecture Thesaurus, Le Vocabulaire de la sculpture (french), the 19th century sculpture catalogue or the Royal Fine Arts Museums of Belgium, the Garnier iconographical thesaurus & ; these lists are currently bilingual (French and Dutch), and will be available in English in the near future.

To search the database, one can create an index, that gives the system the list of the fields on which to search. This is a very flexible solution, with a wide range of possibilities. One can choose to search on the artist s name, whereas another user will stroll through the indexing terms of the iconographic fields or combine a search for a term that would appear either in the art work's title, or its iconography. It is also possible to restrict the search to a given date or range of dates. There is a built-in report generator, for printing or exporting data under a text form.