Beweb : A Database for Works in Italian Churches

2/12/12 - Internet - Database - There has rarely been such a rich, and fascinating, database but also as frustrating as the newly posted Beweb.
Beweb stands for Beni ecclesiasti in Web and was created by the Italian Catholic Church, more precisely by the Ufficio Nazionale per i beni culturali ecclesiastici (UNBCE), an entity of the Conferenza Episcopale Italiana.

It contains boundless wealth : the number of objects already listed comes close to 3.5 millon and the base continues to grow. The images are of varying quality and barely acceptable size (a maximum of 444 pixels) which is its first drawback.
Another problem consists in the fact it is impossible to carry out in-depth searches. Let us take an example. If we look for all of Guido Reni’s canvases, the user is left to select by himself which ones are copies after the artist, the works from his school, his circle and those which are fully attributed to him.
However, the most serious flaw is a total lack of information concerning the precise whereabouts of the objects for which there is simply the diocese to which they belong. We can easily imagine the reason for this missing data : the fear of theft. This is of course totally absurd : potential robbers dispose of the necessary means to target the works in the churches. If we follow this line of reasoning, any mention of whereabouts would have to be forbidden in articles or art history books and Italian travel guides taken off the bookshelves ! The results would be simple enough to predict : robbers would continue to steal but art lovers would have no idea where to find a specific painting unless they undertake a bibliographical research, all the longer depending on how famous it is.
On the contrary, making the Church’s heritage better known and helping to make this knowledge more widespread is the best way to protect it. The idea that publishing a vignette with no bibliograpical information nor any precise indication of its whereabouts can be of any real help for art historians is, in our opinion, a serious mistake. The Beweb database is thus, but not because of its design (as it is very user-friendly) rather the limitations imposed by its authors, one of the most interesting on the web today but also one of the most useless.

Version française

Didier Rykner, vendredi 7 décembre 2012

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