The Census Database

From hand­written cards to a data­base available online and world­wide: in the 75-year history of the Census, the project has deve­loped on nume­rous plat­forms, supported by diffe­rent insti­tu­tions in diffe­rent loca­tions. In the late 1970s, the first sugges­tion was made that the index cards in the Census files, which were already considerable in number, should be trans­ferred to a computer system using the latest tech­no­logy. Thus the oldest art histo­rical computer data­base was born. New data is still being added to it and it can be used by art histo­rians and archaeo­lo­gists around the world.

Below is a time­line outlining the major mile­stones in the deve­lo­p­ment of the digital census from the 1980s to the present.

Census UNIX Retrieval System, Fran­cesco di Giorgio, Uffizi, ‘Taccuino del viaggio’


The Data Model

The decision to digi­tise the index cards was made in the early 1980s. The index card system had the disad­van­tage that the data could only be accessed by sear­ching for the card of a parti­cular ancient monu­ment. The data model, which was deve­loped from 1981 onwards under the direc­tion of Arnold Nessel­rath in Rome in colla­bo­ra­tion with the programmer Rick Holt, created a number of searchable object types. This made it possible to search via the cate­go­ries of ancient monu­ments, Renais­sance docu­ments, people, places. This is the data model the Census still uses today.

The Census today

The students in the Census seminar were inte­rested in making the circa 10,000 ancient monu­ments and almost 50,000 Renais­sance docu­ments in the Census data­base more acces­sible for users. They created visua­li­sa­tions to enable visi­tors to the exhi­bi­tion to easily access and interact with the immense Census database. 

The cate­go­ries of both ancient monu­ments and Renais­sance docu­ments are visua­lised in this diagram accor­ding to the total number of entries. Here one can easily see the full variety of almost 7,000 histo­rical records, biblio­gra­phic refe­rences, people, styles and locations.


Types of Data in the Census Database

Rela­ti­onships between the Most Important Object Types

The Rela­ti­onship and Links between the Main Categories

This visua­li­sa­tion offers an over­view of how the autho­rity files ‘Person’, ‘Date’, ‘Style’, ‘Loca­tion’, and ‘Biblio­graphy’ relate to the primary files ‘Antique Monu­ments’ and ‘Renais­sance Docu­ments’. The size of the circles reflects the size of each cate­gory; the larger the circle, the more data is held in the Census. Given the variety of data and for the sake of clarity, subca­te­go­ries were not included in this visualisation.

Visua­li­sa­tion of the Variety of Mate­rials Repre­sented in the Census

In order to clarify the variety of data in the Census, the diffe­rent mate­rials of the objects repre­sented in the data­base is shown here in a diagram. If the mate­rial of an ancient monu­ment is known, it is recorded in the data­base. Mate­rials such as marble are described in specific cate­go­ries that can be sear­ched, e.g. ‘bigio afri­cano’, ‘pavo­n­a­zetto’ or ‘verde antico’. However, one can also display all monu­ments made of marble, whereby all subca­te­go­ries appear in the search results.

Pie Chart Showing the Mate­rials of the Ancient Monu­ments Recorded in the Census Database

‘The Census Data­base’ (Room 4) is a colla­bo­ra­tive exhi­bi­tion by:

Agnete Bay
Tim Boroe­witsch
Leonie Engel
Eva Karl
Matteo Anthony Kramer
Anna Latzko
Maria Elisa­beth Lehmann
Sarah Letzel
Sophie Steiner