The Journey of ArtMapping Venice

1. Introduction

The coming of the Digital Era has brought irreversible changes in everyday life, introducing habits and methods that one couldn’t have imagined thirty years ago. One of the major changes is without any doubts the availability of the Internet almost everywhere, which brings the ability to access almost any kind of information anytime.

One of the results of this digital revolution related to our project is the printed maps on paper giving their way to extensible online digital maps and navigators. For this reason, in the last years we have seen an increasing development in what are called Geographic Information Systems (GISs), tools designed to capture, store, manipulate, analyze, manage, and present various types of geographical data. The potentials of GIS’s are enormous: the concept of map evolves by the integration of different types of information giving multi-dimensionality that pushes the limits of what can be done on a printed paper map. If the supplementary dimension added to the map is the time and the main represented data are the artworks, the process starts to become interesting by itself.

2. ArtMapping

Our first research question constituting the basis for the development of the project is represented by the definition of the term ArtMapping. Our idea stems from the desire to revolutionize the conventional approach for the discovery of a city, enriching this experience by exploiting the possibilities offered by digital maps. The means of doing this is to merge the details offered by an art catalogue with the spatial information included in a map, in order to associate the artworks depicting a particular subject in the city with the corresponding location today. Starting from these consideration, what we define with the word ArtMap is a tool which provides both the information of a map and those contained in an art book and visualize them together in a user friendly interface.

The city that has drawn our attention more than the others for ArtMapping is Venice. Playing a central role in Renaissance and being one of the essential destinations of Grand Tour, a 17th century tourism boom within aristocratic Englishmen, Venice has extensively been the subject of artists. Due to these two factors, it is relatively frequent that one finds the veduta, highly detailed painting of a city scene, of sceneries of Venice by different artists done in various periods. In this context it is especially important to remark the painters Canaletto (1697-1768) and Michele Marieschi (1710-1743), who are among the most famous vedutisti, veduta painters, of their periods.

In order to design and realize the ArtMap of Venice, we needed to define and choose the necessary ingredients. These elements fundamentally consist of:

  • The works of art: which subcategory among the several possibilities, such as prints, paintings, photos, drawings, etc., will constitute the collection that is integrated in the ArtMap.
  • The GIS: which platform is used to show the geographical information associated with each location and its related artworks.

3. Collection of artworks: Merveilleuse Venise

As the source of the artworks of Venice, we decided to focus on a particular book, “Merveilleuse Venise” by Sophie Monneret, published in 1971. The book contains prints of Venice dating from 15th century to 18th century, drawn by famous vedutisti including Canaletto and Michele Marieschi, that are preserved in the collections of Bibliothèque Nationale de Paris and Musées Civiques d’Art et d’Histoire de Venise. The drawings that are found in the book are of various types including city plans, vedute, depiction of public events and daily life in Venice. This variety of nature of drawings is especially suitable for our project, since it allows us to capture the history of Venice more thoroughly. Furthermore, the drawings are accompanied by explanatory text relating the drawing to history, which is again a big plus for conveying the story of Venice.

Ponte di Rialto, being built in 1591 it still stands as one of the most frequently used bridge of Venice.

Ponte di Rialto, built in 1591, still stands as one of the most frequently used bridge of Venice.

Mapping the prints from one single book is beneficial for our work, allowing us to collect data in a systematic way and making use of a reliable source of information, which is very important for achieving a reliable temporal resolution of Venice in the ArtMap. 

3. The geographical interface

The next decision we needed to make in order to realize our project, after defining the source of the artworks, was choosing the appropriate geographical interface that is able to relate the point of interests in Venice with the historical prints. There were a number of options to choose from for this interface, three major ones being Google Maps [4], Google Earth and ArcGIS where each one had their pros and cons.

After testing out the capabilities and usability of different interfaces, we have chosen the Google Maps interface over the others since it meets the needs of our project while being easy to use in the end users side, not needing any plug-ins to be installed. Furthermore, with this interface the user has the ability to view the city as a map or as registered satellite images. While map view gives an easy to grasp and clean representation of the city, thus accentuating the information in the prints, the satellite view gives detailed scenery information enabling the user to immerse themselves more in Venice. Furthermore, by having automatic support for aerial close-up images and changing the point of view, Google Maps interface enables the user to discover the point of interest from four different angles, giving them the ability to match the desired angle of view, in particular with the artists’.

Piazza San Marco looking north.

Piazza San Marco looking north.

Piazza San Marco looking east.

Piazza San Marco looking east, which meets the point of view of the artist more.

4. The database for point of interests and images

Since the aim of our project is to create a spatio-temporal representation of Venice, we present the user two fundamental information: geographical information of locations of Venice and their evolution with time visualized through historical prints. In order to meet these two goals, the information of locations and the prints need to be stored in a database. Two main ways this can be done are by storing the information of locations and the prints in the same database or splitting the two and relating the information between these two databases. For reasons of standardization of the geographical information used in the project and utilizing powerful representation abilities of Keyhole Markup Language (KML) without violating its standards, we decided to choose the second way and built two separate databases, one for representing geographical locations and one for the prints.


The geographical (KML) and artwork (XML) entries for Scuola di San Marco. The relation between two databases is made through the matching of id tag in KML’s description and Point of Interest (<poi>) tag in XML.

There are a number of benefits of using standard KML. First of all, KML is very powerful in terms of geocoding, having capabilities of representing complex shapes, view angles and geographical information. One of the fundamentally important benefit KML brings to our project is that it can represent polygons of different colors and styles, which enables us to confine the point of interests, buildings, piazzas, canals, etc., precisely and classify them visually according to their type by styling the polygons. Furthermore, by implementing the KML support using geoxml3 API [5] which is designed for customized interaction with placemarks in the database, the user can hide the polygons for removing the transparent overlays for better visualization of the point of interests. Next, KML is a proliferated and well supported standard for representing geographical data, which makes the completed database independent of the visualization tool. The same KML data can be imported to GIS software and the data complying with the KML standards is displayed without any special programming being necessary. Furthermore, using a known standard for representing information creates the possibility for other enthusiasts to make databases that can be displayed in our interface.

For storing the information on the prints of Venice we chose to use an XML file. The XML file stores the name of the print, the artist, the date of the print, description of the location, the tag of the location and the image files of the print and a contemporary photograph that approximating the point of view of the artist. The historical information about the location is queried when the user selects a location from the Google Maps interface. The gathered information from the XML file about the prints matching their location tags with the ID of the selected point of interest is then showed in a modal window [6]. With this implementation, multiple images corresponding to single location can be showed, enabling the user to see how the location evolved through time.

Fondaco dei Turchi has been undergone thorough restorations between 1860-1880 during which two towers were added.

Fondaco dei Turchi has undergone thorough restorations between 1860-1880 during which two towers were added.

5. ArtMaps features

The artmap final interface is designed in order to offer the user the primary tools needed for the artistic discovery of Venice:

  • The underlying map, with the possibility to switch from map mode to satellite or  earth mode, adapts to user preference.
  • The point of interests, that are well visible with every visualization mode on the map and on an external list, are coded with different color codes for churches, buildings, squares and cultural events allowing the user to quickly focus on the specific target.
  • The modal window, in which the historical prints are visualized side by side to the current appearance of the location [7], provides an easy interface for following the history of Venice.
Entrance to Venetian Arsenal: Porta Magna

Entrance to Venetian Arsenal: Porta Magna

Particular importance is given on the concept of temporal resolution: when there are more than one print available for a single location, the modal window displays the prints in chronological order, with the corresponding present appearance matching the point of view of the artists’. In this way, the user is given the possibility to see and compare the different drawings, realizing the changes that the particular point of interest has undergone during the years.

Besides the visual information, a brief description is available for every location in order to summarize the related history and curiosities. Furthermore, external information such as links to related webpages or embedded videos are included for extending the presentation of the location.

An embedded YouTube video about Festa del Redentore.

An embedded YouTube video about Festa del Redentore.

6. Conclusion

We have developed a means for visualizing how Venice changed through time by using artworks. The interface is designed to be user friendly, where the historical information is visualized on a digital map. As the user requests information about a location, they are supplied with prints of Venice dating from 15th to 19th century and contemporary photographs of the same location for comparison. Furthermore, besides the visual information about the location, the user is given a description of the history and the importance of that particular place in the history of Venice. With this property, the tool is also suitable for touristic visitors of Venice for gathering visual and historical knowledge about the city and its important landmarks.

Although the designed website tells the story of Venice captured by the book “Merveilleuse Venise”, it is easily extensible since the geographical information is represented in widely accepted standard KML and the image database represented in XML follows simple tagging rules. By extending only these two files, the tool can be used for visualizing other cities or other landmarks retreived from different sources.

To conclude our project, we think ArtMapping is a user friendly concept for telling the history and helping the discovery of a city by using the artwork of famous artists of the past and visualizing them through the modern mapping tools of the present.


[1] Venetian School. Web. Date of access: 14 May 2013

[2] Venice Art History. Web. Date of access: 14 May 2013

[3] GIS. Web. Date of access: 14 May 2013

[4] Google Maps JavaScript API v3. Web. Date of access: 14 May 2013

[5] Geoxml3. Web. Date of access: 15 May 2013

[6] SimpleModal. Web. Date of access: 14 May 2013

[7] Panoramio. Web. Date of access: 14 May 2013


2 thoughts on “The Journey of ArtMapping Venice

  1. Pingback: Art Mapping Venice Abstract | ArtMapping Venice

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