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Visual Art System for Archiving & Retrieval of Images
Birbeck College, Art History Department

Year: 1993
Status: Laureate
Category: Media Arts & Entertainment
Nominating Company: Sun Microsystems, Inc.

The VASARI project produced a scanning technique that replaces photography of painting with accurate digital imaging. The precise, high-resolution images are used for painting conservation, scientific analysis, publishing, and teaching.
Photography has long been used to keep records of the appearance of
paintings. Unfortunately photographs are neither permanent nor accurate.
For the first time, the VASARI system makes it possible to measure the
colour of the whole surface of a painting; previously the study of even
small areas of colour was a long, arduous process.

The VASARI project has developed a computer-controlled scanning system
which produces digital high resolution images of works of art with
excellent colour accuracy. The system is based on a high resolution
camera and innovative lighting system mounted on a robotic positioning
device. Images from the camera are calibrated and assembled by a SUN
workstation, which also controls the scanning operation. New image
calibration and processing software and a graphical user interface have
been developed to cope with the large images, which can be up to 10,000
by 10,000 pixels in size and occupy 700Mbytes of disk space (for a
seven-band colour image).

These advances have permitted changes in the colour and surface
appearance of the paintings to be monitored with time. For example,
comparison of images made before and after conservation treatment have
indicated to restorers the changes in appearance caused by cleaning. By
examining the surface of the painting before and after a painting has
travelled on exhibition, it is possible to assess any damage caused by
transportation. Previous attempts to document such information have not
proved successful. The repeatability and accuracy of the digital
measurements are the key to the project's success.

VASARI was sponsored by the European Community and involved: Birkbeck
College (London), The National Gallery (London), Brameur Ltd. (UK), The
Doerner Institut (Munich), TUV (Munich), Thomson-CSF (France), Telecom
Paris and SIDAC (Rome).