Semantic Web, Cultural Heritage, and Art Historical Knowledge: Conceptual Models, Ontologies, and Epistemological Implications


March 27-28, 2023

Museo Picasso Málaga / online

Organized by University of Málaga: iArtHis_Lab, Art History Department, Research and Transfer Vicerrectorate, Cátedra Telefónica-UMA

With the collaboration of: Museo Picasso Málaga

Scientific coordination: Nuria Rodríguez Ortega (UMA), M.ª Mar Roldán (UMA), and M.ª Luisa Díez Platas (UNIR)

Academic Secretariat: María Ortiz Tello (UMA), Manuela García Lirio (UMA)

Graphic design and technical coordination: Leticia Crespillo Marí (UMA)

The semantic web is a thriving area in the confluence of artificial intelligence and web technologies that proposes to introduce explicit descriptions about the meaning of resources to allow machines themselves to have a level of understanding comparable to that of human reasoning. In the context of the cultural field, the adoption of semantic web technologies (especially the development of ontologies and knowledge graphs) is of great interest due to their potential to diversify the forms of access to cultural contents, to amplify the narratives that can be developed from them, and to increase the possibilities of extracting implicit knowledge from large datasets. Likewise, semantic web technologies facilitate the structured and semantically enriched recording of cultural contents, make possible their publication as linked open data (LOD), increase the interoperability of distributed information, and provide the mechanisms that allow data reuse for new knowledge and value generation. The results achieved so far are important; however, there are still numerous challenges to be faced. Meanwhile, there are interesting research avenues that demand special attention.

Within the framework of the Andalex II and Complexhibit projects, the iArtHis_Lab research team has been working for some time on the development of OntoExhibit, an ontology that aspires to make a contribution to the advancement of the semantic web research infrastructures in the field of cultural heritage and art historical knowledge. OntoExhibit is an ontology developed in OWL2 and RDF standards that is being designed to enable the representation, publication, consumption, access, and reuse of the semantically enriched encoded information of the art exhibition domain and its associated discursive and socio-communicative practices.

Based on some of the problematic issues encountered in the development of OntoExhibit, in this seminar we particularly want to delve into the epistemological implications involved in the building of conceptual models and ontologies for the cultural heritage and art history fields: fuzzy and ambiguous temporalities, overlapping and interweaving interpretative layers, post-anthropocentric conceptual hierarchies, epistemological biases, cultural conventions embedded in existing models, etc.; these are just some of the issues that will be addressed in this seminar.

This seminar brings together a group of experts with extensive experience in the intersection between semantic web technologies and the cultural field to shed light on these and other questions.

Please, join us on March 27-28, 2023.

The attendance to the seminar is free and open to everyone, with no registration fees. Attendance may be in person or online. Registration is required in both cases due to limited capacity. Registrants will be sent the connection link a few days before the seminar begins.

Attendance certificates will be issued on demand.

Program and abstracts

Monday 27th

The purpose of this paper is to show the process of elaboration of the ontology of the Ovidian Digital Library (hereafter BDO). The BDO project is a funded research project that is being developed in several phases, conceived as a patrimonial project that collects and studies all the copies of the illustrated works of the Latin poet Publius Ovidius Naso printed between the 15th and 19th centuries and kept in Spanish public and private libraries. The ontology models the rich information available in the BDO, extracted from the detailed study of the copies in question, which until now has been stored in a relational database.

The design of the ontology aims to make the BDO data open, taking into account the FAIR principles. An important aspect within the BDO ontology is the integration of a set of thesauri to represent the values of certain properties.  In this presentation we will show the processes that are underway: the development of the thesauri and the development of the ontology itself, which is undergoing successive refinements.

This contribution is dedicated to the theoretical and methodological reflection on the knowledge modeling practices that underlie the broader Semantic Web project (Tim Berners-Lee 2001). The aim is twofold: on the one hand, to frame crucial issues in the epistemological debate around classification practices and data collection criteria (Forsythe 1993; Bath 2011). On the other hand, it aims to provide an adequate definition for a new research field established as a direct consequence of these considerations: Feminist Digital Humanities (Lost and Wernimont 2019; D’Ignazio and Klein 2020). Starting from this definition, this contribution seeks to propose a coherent research agenda for the future development of projects related to the construction of structured and open semantic archives (LOD) and digital tools for memory preservation and museum storytelling (Giannini and Bower 2019; Marini and D’Agostino 2022).
The first part of the intervention focuses on a thematic survey across the most recent literature on feminist approaches to Digital Humanities, framing their growth path and rapid diffusion from the early 90s to the present day. Emphasis is given to some exemplary study cases and ongoing projects of relevance to the discipline.  The second part is dedicated to addressing some open methodological questions behind the feminist approach to Digital Humanities, and limitations due to its fragmented nature, which can represent the first obstacle to overcome in the establishment of a situated approach to the Semantic Web. Finally, it seeks to understand how such obstacles can be an effective tool for rethinking the archive and its objects when they become part of a digital ecosystem. Through this embryonic contribution, my aim is to stimulate a rich debate on the limits and potentialities of the use of gender as a category of knowledge and its role in the development of so-called political technologies.

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The aim of this paper is to discuss some of the conceptual and epistemological problems faced in the process of the development of OntoExhibit V. 1.0. OntoExhibit is an ontology developed in OWL2 and RDF standards that is being designed to enable the representation, publication, consumption, access, and reuse of the semantically enriched encoded information of the art exhibition domain. OntoExhibit is conceived as an extension of CIDOC CRM (7.2.1) and FRBRoo (3.0).  The OntoExhibit model conceptualizes the exhibition field as a hypercomplex cultural system—that is, as a system made up of different interdependent subsystems, whose interactions (as this is a cultural field) generate entangled semantic and discursive layers that produce symbolic value. Consequently, in addition to the representation of the diversity of objects and actors (humans and non-humans) that forms part of the art exhibition domain and their interactions, one of the main objectives of OntoExhibit is the description and representation of these semantic layers and discursive practices. To this end, specific classes have been incorporated into the model that allow the integration of both the sphere of discursive expansion to which the exhibition phenomena give rise and the propositional contents (thesis, arguments, hypothesis, interpretations, critical discussions, concepts, etc.) that their associated discursive productions (linguistic, sound, visual) convey.

The ICONCLASS classification system has been available as SKOS Linked Open Data in RDF since 2011. The SKOS IRIs have been widely used in several projects globally to document their collections. For many phenomena that have an open-ended scope in Iconclass (as denoted by the «bracketed text» notations) there is a need to unambiguously define a globally unique identifier. A good example for this class of items are Christian Saints. The current system of open-ended natural language names for identifying such items, and their corresponding IRIs are not sufficient to facilitate collaborative collections descriptions and discovery. This is a discussion of the proposed revision of the ICONCLASS SKOS representation, using numerical, unique IRIs linked to reconciled datasources.

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The entities involved in cultural heritage fruition include cultural assets, events, interpretations, as well as the humans appraising those assets and the context they evoke, let alone the curation invested in creating exhibitions and stories.
This is therefore a complex ontological domain, spanning physical, social and cognitive realms. Connecting the dots between those realms, so that heterogeneous data can be integrated, and added value could be obtained, is not trivial.
I will report a few experiences in designing ontology networks for catalogues’ hidden knowledge (ArCo [1][2]), and for co-curation in museum contexts, where interpretation-reflection loops get activated with the help of artificial intelligence techniques (EU project SPICE [3][4]).

Semantic Web technologies foster connection and contextualization. They can benefit museum collections by disclosing information in a scalable and interoperable way, aggregating previously heterogeneous and siloed data. Based on formal languages such as RDF, RDFS or OWL they can describe the meaning and the connections among disparate data to define concepts, entities, and relationships and to facilitate multifaceted retrieval, reasoning, data integration and knowledge reuse. Benefits of Semantic Web technologies to the broader DH domain include but not limited to harmonised views of distributed sources, semantic-based content aggregation, enrichment, search, browsing and recommendation. Over the last decades we have witnessed a proliferation of semantic web projects in the broader cultural heritage domain at a national and European level. Infrastructure programmes, such as EUROPEANA, DARIAH, PARTHENOS and ARIADNEplus, to name but a few, have delivered rich interoperable structures and innovations that advanced the tasks of data integration, sharing, analysis, retrieval, and visualisation. As conceptual models mature and expand, and CIDOC-CRM is becoming an undeniable standard in the domain, we reflect on the challenges and opportunities encountered when semantic web technologies are applied both to regional small and large, globally renowned museum collections.  The role and application of semantic modelling is examined through two distinct case studies; a) the regional Archaeological Museum of Tripolis (Greece) of limited digital presence, but with a unique collection of regional antiquities that employed semantic methods to enrich and share their digitised collections holdings and b) the Sloane Lab (UK) that aims to aggregate a multitude of catalogue records (both historic and current, from multiple disciplines) dispersed across the British Museum, Natural History Museum and British Library.  The presentation delivers useful insight and highlights the opportunities and challenges both for small heritage organisations and large global institutions when applying high-level semantics to withdraw silo barriers of museum items and enable interoperable and multi-layered representations.

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Tuesday 28th

In this presentation I will discuss the criteria that were used to design and develop the Cultural Heritage Abstract Reference Model (CHARM,, a comprehensive and modular ontology of cultural heritage. In particular, I will focus on issues such as adaptability, expressiveness, temporality, subjectivity and vagueness. I will also discuss some design choices that were selected, such as the object/structure duality and the performative/manifestation distinction. I will also give an overview of the resulting ontology and provide some examples of its usage in real-world scenarios.

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Between 2018 and 2021, an international consortium built of 9 partners developed the SILKNOW research project, thanks to a Horizon 2020 grant ( The project had ambitious goals, one of them being the implementation of an exploratory search engine, designed to facilitate access to the huge amount of silk heritage scattered across European and American collections. One of the requisites of the funding call was to work only with information existing already in digital form, usually, cataloguing records from various institutions. No new cataloguing was to be done; instead, available digital resources had to be gathered, made interoperable, and unified through a single search interface. For the sake of adding complexity, those resources could exist in any of four European languages (English, French, Italian and Spanish), but search results should bridge linguistic differences and user preferences, to provide a single entry point to widely heterogeneous but valuable cataloguing records.

Semantic web technologies were a key factor in this development, of course. CIDOC CRM was obviously chosen as the underlying ontology in order to allow gluing together some 30.000 records, giving them a common descriptive structure, as well as semantic properties. In addition to that, since a good number of the gathered records contained domain-specific information (typical features of textile heritage, such as “yarn”, “weave”, “warp”, “weft”…) it was also necessary to add some new classes and properties, taking advantage of CIDOC CRM built-in possibilities for extension.

More and more, cultural heritage and academic institutions are describing and sharing their data as linked data not only for the management of their collections, but also for research and education. This opens new possibilities for the re-use of knowledge about collections. However, the emergence of large data sets in cultural heritage institutions require a necessary critical reflection on epistemological, methodological, and ethical issues concerning their use in research and education. In this presentation I will briefly discuss the outcomes of a project in which Dutch academic (Huygens Institute, Meertens Institute University of Amsterdam Vrije University of Amsterdam and Utrecht University) and cultural heritage institutes (Rijksmuseum, KB National Library of the Netherlands, RKD Netherlands Institute for Art History) together developed a research infrastructure for the analysis of interactions between the production and the consumption and between the various branches of the creative industries of the Dutch Golden Age. In the context of this project: Golden Agents: Creative Industries and the Making of the Dutch Golden Age that combined Semantic Web with Multi-Agent technologies, various ontologies were developed of 1) storylines 2) archival resources 3) periodization. Here, we discuss epistemological, methodological, and ethical challenges to model ontologies to structure cultural heritage and art-historical information based on published and unpublished conflicting classifications of the arts. In particular, we will focus on uncertainty and ambiguity in modelling and discuss ethical problems of data integration in retrospect of published and unpublished data. This presentation builds on earlier publications such as, “Modeling and Visualizing Storylines of Historical Interactions” and contributions to colloquia ( Visual Contagions ) and is intended as an exploration of the development of ontology design patterns for the Making of the Arts.

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Digital methods can help analyse and visualise artistic circulation across the globe, revealing the impact of specific artworks and the evolution of visual trends. The many digitised exhibition records and museum repertoires provide us already with a large number of digital sources for studying circulation on a global scale. However, the digital analysis of art exhibitions suffers from the absence of a shared conceptualisation resulting in the scattering of information across very different data sources, described using diverse schemas and with widely varying informational content. This contribution presents a solution for integrating such information using the Linked Open Data framework. We propose an ontological model developed using CIDOC-CRM to represent historical data about exhibitions, artworks and museum catalogues, specifically focusing on facilitating the analysis of spatio-temporal information. The model originates from the bottom-up ontological mapping of Basart, a collaborative database of exhibition catalogues from the 19th century to the present day, developed under the aegis of the Artl@s project. Basart document exhibitions that have taken place in multiple countries and in very diverse settings. The richness of these global and varying data has guided the development of a CIDOC-CRM model that represents exhibitions as historical activities, testifying the interactions of agents and objects in space and time using exhibition catalogues as historical sources. The contribution will present the developed model and the resulting data, demonstrating its ability to integrate exhibition information and shed a light on the multi-layered circulation of art. The implementation of the proposed model will promote a broader analysis of exhibition data in a global context. It will, moreover, help to create a decentralised environment in which each institution can retain authority over its collection while sharing its knowledge in a larger cultural data space.

Ontologies play an important role in the domain of cultural heritage by providing a structured framework for organising and managing information on cultural heritage artefacts, sites, and practices. Ontologies can be used to facilitate interoperability and data exchange between different cultural heritage repositories, databases, and systems. They can also support the development of new applications and services that enable users to access, explore, and analyse cultural heritage data in innovative ways. Furthermore, ontologies can support the development of cultural heritage research by providing a common conceptual framework that enables researchers to explore the relationships between different cultural heritage resources and to generate new insights and knowledge.

One of the classical definitions of ontology from the 1990s states that “an ontology is a formal, explicit specification of a shared conceptualisation”. Nowadays, twenty-five years later, the understanding of ontologies has significantly changed as well as the ways of developing and using them. Ontologies are changing from artefacts developed by individuals or small groups to cross-sectorial assets embedded in information systems. This requires not only reaching consensus among actors with different interests, but also coming up with new ontology development practises that support new collaborative needs and that ensure the sustainability of the ontology in the long term.

Furthermore, the interest of people that are not experts in ontology development grows, which requires closing the gap between ontology experts and practitioners and supporting the development of ontologies by non-experts, for instance, in conceptualisation or implementation tasks.

This talk will provide reflexions and discussions on the different characteristics of ontologies by providing a modern perspective on the field of ontological engineering, analysing not only the current role of ontologies but also new emerging requirements over ontologies and ontology development processes.

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Short presentation of speakers

Fátima Díez-Platas (PhD Classical Philology, ABD Art History, MS Ancient History, MS Classical Philology, Universidad Complutense de Madrid) is Associate Professor in Art History at the University of Santiago de Compostela (Spain). She has devoted her research to the iconography of myth, the Classical tradition and ancient art and aesthetics that have materialized in more than hundred publications and contributions to scientific conferences and symposia. She has been the principal investigator of six research projects funded by Spanish Ministries (2003-2022) dedicated to the creation and development of the Biblioteca Digital Ovidiana, a digital platform for the illustrated works of Ovid (, conceived as an interoperable resource, constantly updated with the incorporation of the results of ongoing research.

Nicola Carboni is a Postdoctoral researcher within the Visual Contagions project and Lecturer at the University of Geneva, where he teaches courses on Digital Images and Knowledge Graphs. Previously Fellow at the Swiss Art Research Infrastructure – University of Zurich, Digital Humanities Fellow at Villa I Tatti and Marie Curie Fellow at CNRS MAP. He works on the intersection between knowledge graphs, big visual data and cultural interpretation.

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Cesar Gonzalez-Perez is a Staff Scientist at the Institute for Heritage Sciences (Incipit) at the Spanish National Research Council (CSIC), where he leads a co-research line in software engineering and cultural heritage with the goal to develop the necessary theories, methodologies, and technologies to understand and assist the knowledge generation and communication processes related to cultural heritage. Previously, Cesar has worked in various academic and industry organisations in Spain and Australia, in the areas of conceptual modelling, metamodelling, situational method engineering and software systems development, with a special orientation towards heritage issues. Cesar is also a member of UNE and has edited 4 international standardisation projects, is a research project evaluator for state agencies in 6 countries, has been promoter of 3 technology-based companies, is a lifetime honorary member of Computer Applications and Quantitative Methods in Archaeology (CAA) and has authored over 100 publications.

Magdalena Tyżlik-Carver (she/her) is a curator and researcher whose research interest is in posthuman curating and computational culture, critical data studies, affective data and data fictions. Her current research focuses on developing speculative and participatory methods for data practices beyond BigTech extractivism and expansive infrastructural politics. She is Associate Professor of Digital Communication and Culture in the Dept. of Digital Design and Information Studies at the School of Communication and Culture and a director of the Centre for Critical Data Practices at Aarhus University (DK). She is co-editor of Executing Practices (2018), and her forthcoming publications include Beyond Image in the series In Search of Media (University of Minnesota Press and Meson Press), Curating SuperIntelligences: Speculations on the Future of Curating, AI and Hybrid Realities  (Open Humanities Press).

Jorge Sebastián Lozano is Assistant Professor in the Department of Art History of Universitat de València, where he teaches art history and cultural heritage at the graduate and undergraduate levels. He has also been a research fellow in Real Colegio Complutense, at Harvard University, in 2017 and 2018.  His doctoral dissertation was devoted to female representation in Spanish court art and visual culture during the 16th century, with a number of book chapters and exhibition essays resulting from it. In 2020 he collaborated in Sofonisba Anguissola’s exhibition in Museo del Prado. He has also been involved in Digital Humanities initiatives since the early 2000s. Between 2018 and 2021 he has served as Technical Manager for SILKNOW, a European Commission-funded research project on silk production and trade in Europe in early modern times. The project received the Grand Prix for Innovation award from Europa Nostra and the European Commission in 2022.

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Selenia Anastasi is a Ph.D. candidate in Digital Humanities at the University of Genoa and a Fellow at the Language Technology Group (Hamburg University). Her main research fields are Corpus Linguistics and Semantic Web Technologies for the Digital Humanities. She is interested in the emergence of identity and situated knowledge in Web 3.0. Within the framework of Feminist Digital Humanities, she has developed two ontology models for gender-based cataloging of information about visual and textual resources in the CH domain, addressing the stereotypical representation of femininity as it emerges in the Western canon.

Raúl is a senior Associate Professor at the Computer Science School at Universidad Politécnica de Madrid (UPM). Having spent three years working as a software engineer, since he graduated in Computer Science (2003) he has been working at UPM in the Ontology Engineering Group in several European and Spanish research projects. His research focuses on ontological engineering, knowledge graphs, and ontology-based data and application integration. In 2008 he obtained a Ph.D. in Computer Science at the UPM – thesis titled «Benchmarking Semantic Web technology», which obtained the Ph.D. Extraordinary Award at UPM. He regularly participates in standardization bodies (ISO, ETSI, W3C, UNE) and in the program committees of peer-reviewed conferences and journals. You can find out more about Raúl on his website:

Organization of this event is supported through the projects PY20_0058, UMA20-FEDERJA-126, the Vicerrectorate of Research and Transfer (UMA), Art History Departament (UMA), Telefónica-UMA Chair, CEHA, and HDH.