Analysis and Recording of Cultural Heritage in Venice

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In October 2018, Factum Foundation, Fondazione Giorgio Cini, and the Digital Humanities Laboratory of Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (DHLAB-EPFL) launched ARCHiVe - Analysis and Recording of Cultural Heritage in Venice, a new initiative dedicated to the use, study and transmission of cultural heritage through digital technologies.

The 1000 square meters headquarters, located on the Venetian island of San Giorgio Maggiore, include a workshop and educational space dedicated to research for technology in the digital preservation of cultural heritage and archives. ARCHiVe is primarily funded and supported by The Helen Hamlyn Trust.

Each of the institutions fuelling this initiative brings a unique skill set to the recording and analysing of cultural heritage. The Fondazione Cini is a leading centre of academic research complete with extraordinary archives and collections, providing an incredible infrastructure for ARCHiVe. Factum Foundation's digital technologies' specialists bring experience, creativity and innovation in the training and transfer of technologies as well as in the development of data capturing systems. Whereas, EPFL's Digital Humanities Lab is perfectly equipped to analyse and extract meaning from the data collected thanks to the intelligent computer vision software it developed in the previous years.

The three partners share the belief that digital conservation is leading to a deeper understanding of works of art and cultural heritage. Hence, it is an epoch-shaping opportunity bound to have a big impact on both research and education. Within this vision, research independence is a key value for guaranteeing the unconditioned progress of science and scholarship and the availability of the results of free and unrestricted research for the benefit of society.

Image © Courtesy of Fondazione Cini



ARCHiVe aims to become a centre of international excellence innovation, creating both hardware and software for recording, archiving, interpreting and transmitting the world's cultural heritage.

ARCHiVe is primarily concerned with efficiency, effectiveness and innovation. The challenge it faces is to save money while increasing the speed of data capturing, improving the quality of the resultant data and simplifying the file formats. This is applied to a new generation of analytic tools in order to extract meaning.

Additionally, all the tools developed in ARCHiVe are made available for institutions involved in the fields of cultural heritage study, protection and conservation.

The research led at ARCHiVe will greatly contribute to the condition monitoring of artworks and cultural heritage sites throughout time. This will greatly impact decision making and procedures regarding the protection of objects and it will allow museums, institutions and private collectors to keep track of the state of objects before and after restoration procedures.

Furthermore, the non-contact high-resolution recording techniques used and developed by ARCHiVe enhance the field of digital restoration, a fast-growing application of digital technologies. In fact, they provide high-resolution data required by conservators and restorers for in-depth studies and understanding of the physical nature of the objects. They also allow the gathering of fragments of single objects that were dispersed over time and the rematerialisation of these objects in digital and physical form as facsimiles.



ARCHiVe is operating through four different, yet complementary strands:

1) It promotes the high-resolution 3D and colour recording of key artifacts and sites in order to facilitate their preservation, study and dissemination.
Understanding the right technology for the right task is critical in every project. While, currently, the core skills are high-resolution photogrammetry, composite photography (colour, X-Ray, infrared, ultraviolet) and the Lucida 3D laser scanner, an engineering workshop is responsible of the adaptation of existing equipment and development of new technologies, such as RTI and photometric stereo, to best fit the needs of art and cultural heritage under all their forms. This will eventually allow ARCHIVe to systematically obtain the highest possible quality of data.

2) It supports the development and application of Intelligent Computer-Vision Software. In fact, as the algorithms get more precise and the data becomes freely available, new technologies are redefining the relationship between the past and the present and are opening up new epistemological and methodological perspectives for art-historical research into cultural heritage.

3) Furthermore, generating vast amounts of data comes with the responsibility of storing it and ensuring future generations have access to it. Therefore, investigating long-term storage solutions for digital archives is another fundamentally important mission for ARCHiVe. The centre works on ensuring safe and secure digital systems to migrate, store in multiple locations, access and use various types of data without expensive proprietary software. But it also focuses on the storage of digital data in physical form capable of withstanding extended periods of time without electricity.

4) Finally, ARCHiVe focuses on transferring skills and technologies through specialised training programmes. This approach ensures local guardianship and has the potential to generate income at a local level. These training programmes take a step further compared to any other classical educational programmes as they are a hub gathering people from many different boards such as the growing community of electronic engineers, software writers, IT specialists, archivists, cataloguers, conservators and students from a wide range of disciplines.

The centre bases its training programme on a practical 'learning by doing approach', thus allowing the participants to acquire an intricate knowledge of fieldwork practice. Theory and practice are oriented to carry out actual projects of Cultural Heritage digitisation.

Training are structured around these phases of digital data management:

1. Data gathering. The first phase covers on-site recording of artifacts:

a) 2D/3D high-resolution recording systems: development, adaptation and use.
b) Combination of various systems to obtain meaningful information.
c) Methodologies for working with fragile objects and/or in sensitive sites.

  1. Data archiving. The second phase is focused on data management:

a) Short-term/long-term digital storage and metadata.
b) Management of high-resolution files or databases.
c) Dissemination and access to the information.

  1. Data processing. The third phase works around digital mediation: 

a) 2D/3D digital restoration: image processing, modelling, etc.
b) Data visualization and interactive applications: mixed-reality application, navigators, etc.
c) Preparation of digital data for rematerialisation: high-resolution prototyping.



Some of the ongoing and upcoming activities ran by ARCHiVe include:

4.1 Photo archive recording at the Fondazione Cini

The Replica project, coordinated by Isabella di Lenardo and Frederic Kaplan, actually began before the launch of ARCHiVe, as a preamble to the initiative. It consists in the digitisation of the rich documentary heritage of the Fondazione Giorgio Cini and paintings of the Veneto in collaboration with its institutes of history, literature, music, stage design and other arts as well as similar archives.

For this specific project, Factum Foundation with support from EPFL, built the Replica 360 Recto/ Verso Scanner. The scanner is capable of recording over 3000 double sided A3 images a day and automatically downloading and archiving the resulting images. The configuration for the Cini uses two 50mp Canon 5DSR Cameras producing a 1:1 image of 700 DPI. It has already recorded and archives over one million double-sided documents that can be accessed and analysed by EPFL’s software.

The Replica 360 Recto/ Verso scanner © Courtesy of Fondazione Giorgio Cini


4.2 Digitisation systems designed by Factum Foundation

Developing new recording technologies is at the heart of Factum Foundation’s work. Some of these innovative tools are:

4.2.1 Replica 360 Recto/Verso Recording System

The Replica 360 Recto/Verso Scanner was designed by Adam Lowe and Dwight Perry and built by the team at Factum Arte with support from DHLAB-EPFL specifically to record the Cini's extensive photographic archives. It is a high-resolution image capture system that records front and back of a document at the same time. Replica is a rapid capture system for double-sided A3 documents. It is a rotary table that moves continuously whilst recording both sides of the document. In 2016 it was installed at the Fondazione Giorgio Cini.

While the system requires an onsite presence, it can be operated from Madrid using remote access and most practical and technical issues can be solved at a distance.

In the period July 2016-August 2017, operators at the Cini recorded and processed over 700,000 items, resulting in more than 940,000 image files – or 52TB of RAW data. 470,000 double-sided images were processed by the DHLAB at the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne to build a detailed database of images.

Replica 360 Recto/ Verso Scanner © Factum Arte


4.2.2 Lucida Scanner – 2.5D scanning paintings and artworks

Designed and developed by the artist Manuel Franquelo and custom built by Factum Arte, the Lucida scanner allows to obtain high-resolution recordings of the surfaces of works of art and low relief objects.

The Lucida Scanner was first used to record items in Fondazione Giorgio Cini’s collection back in 2012. Three small Ercole de’Roberti’s panels (Saint George, Saint Catherine of Alexandria and Saint Jerome), part of the Polittico Griffoni altarpiece, were scanned in Palazzo Cini at San Vio for a research and facsimile production project involving international institutions. Between 2012 and 2016 all sixteen panels that form the PolitticoGriffoni were recorded in nine museums in Europe and US. The facsimile is now in San Petronio, Bologna and an exhibition about the project is being planned for Palazzo Fava in late 2019.

Laser surface recording with the Lucida 3D scanner of "Announcing Angel" and "Virgin of the Annunciation". Museum of Villa Cagnola, Gazzada, Varese, Italy © Factum Foundation


4.2.3 Book Scanner

Designed by Enrique Esteban, this manuscript recording system captures, downloads and corrects the image. It has been in use at the State archives in Daghestan for over a year and can be controlled by remote access from Madrid. It has been designed to record fragile manuscripts without damaging the binding.

Book Scanner © Factum Arte

Book scanner © Courtesy of Fondazione Giorgio Cini


4.2.4 Portable Book Scanner

A portable book scanning system specifically designed for use in the mountainous region of Daghestan.

Portable Book Scanner © Factum Arte


4.2.5 RTI computational photographic method

Since 2017, Factum Arte has been developing a new surface scanning system for materialisation of high quality facsimiles based on Reflectance Transmission Imaging. This work has been led by Jorge Cano and Enrique Esteban from the Engineering Department at Factum Foundation. In recent months Adam Weigert and Abhu Dhanda from Carleton University have significantly added to the team. The basic idea is to integrate 3D data from photogrammetry, RTI and photometric stereo.

Example of RTI Computational Photographic Method © Factum Arte


4.2.6 Small Object Scanner

In summer 2018, Matt Marshall developed a photogrammetric system with a revolving table and multiple programmable camera positions.

Small Object Scanner © Factum Arte


4.2.7 Photogrammetry 3D recording

Photogrammetry is an increasingly important tool in the 3D recording of sites and objects. Multiple camera positions allow an object to be recorded in three dimensions. If done correctly this method can produce high-resolution data. Factum Arte is working closely with Capturing Reality to improve their Reality Capture software.

Example of Photogrammetry Recording © Factum Arte


4.3. The First External Research Project

In August and September 2018, a team led by GSAPP Historic Preservation graduates Halley E. Ramos and Travis B. Kennedy visited the ARCHiVe to carry out the central part of their international research project: A photographic exploration of Ruskin's concept of the "golden stain of time" in Venice.

Inspired by Ruskin's Venice daguerreotypes, "In search of the 'Golden Stain of Time'- A documentary investigation into Ruskin, Viollet-le-Duc and the long-term effects of restoration on the built environment" explores the relationship between restoration and Ruskin's "golden stain of time", an aesthetic ideal that serves as a basis–consciously or unconsciously–of many contemporary standards for Historic Preservation. Taken to document what he saw as the wholesale destruction of Venice's "golden stain of time" in an era dominated by the kinds of idealized restorations made famous (and often infamous) by Viollet-le-Duc, Ruskin's daguerreotypes document a pivotal moment in the life of Venice's built environment. This project revisits the subjects of Ruskin's daguerreotypes, using 21st-century digital technologies to both continue Ruskin's project of "watching old buildings with an anxious care" through documentation while also interrogating the enduring relevance of Ruskin's 19th-century ideals as a basis for 21st-century preservation."

Photo Matteo De Fina © Courtesy of Fondazione Giorgio Cini

Photo Matteo De Fina © Courtesy of Fondazione Giorgio Cini

Photo Matteo De Fina © Courtesy of Fondazione Giorgio Cini


ARCHiVe was shortlisted by Apollo Magazine for the 2018 Digital Innovation Award. Learn more on Apollo's website

Read Frédéric Kaplan and Isabella di Lenardo's article about the past and future of Venice here.

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