Unified access to the knowledge on Vincent van Gogh

14 institutions and counting
interconnected by shared entities
integrated search
results in context

Vincent van Gogh needs no introduction. This world-famous painter has left an enormous artistic legacy. His numerous paintings, drawings and prints have inspired generations of artists, are exhibited at museums all around the world and are admired by art lovers daily. The life and work of this enigmatic artist continues to fascinate students, curators, journalists, art dealers and other art historians and is extensively researched to this day.

To facilitate this research the Kröller-Müller Museum, the Van Gogh Museum and the RKD - Netherlands Institute for Art History decided to create a digital platform for the scientific knowledge and information about his work: Van Gogh Worldwide.

'There is a great need among art historians to get access to scientific information about Vincent van Gogh through a single channel. Until now they had to visit museums and research institutions for this and it was not always known where material-technical information on works was available.'

The three founding partners were inspired by The Rembrandt Database, a comparable initiative that started in 2008. However technological developments allowed for a different set-up of the project. The Dutch Digital Heritage Network was consulted and an architecture that adheres to the principles and points of departure of the Digital Heritage Reference Architecture was drawn up. In essence this means that every participant in the project makes their data available as Linked Data. This ensures data remains reliable and up-to-date. Simultaneously data is connected to data of the other participants.

The team was now expanded with UX designers from PuurPXL, web developers from LimoenGroen and search designers from Spinque. In the run-up to the project Spinque had already organised two search design sessions which allowed Van Gogh Worldwide to identify the main search tasks, to define an initial data model and to build a first prototype.

'Van Gogh Worldwide is a very innovative project. A project like this attracts researchers who want to try out all kinds of things. Spinque has a lot of experience with this type of project and already asked critical questions during the quotation process. They convinced us that they would think along critically and could support the process well.'

At the start of the project, Spinque helped to identify critical issues by conducting user-studies and rapid-prototyping. Throughout the implementation phase the flexibility and agility of Spinque Desk APIs and expert knowledge on Linked Data modelling made implementing and connecting with the underlying data sources a breeze. Spinque thus contributed to the creation of a true Linked Art project.

'We are very satisfied with the end result. Few people expected that it would be possible to bring all works by Vincent van Gogh in the Netherlands together but one museum after the other joined until all works were connected and that's just great! Spinque has facilitated this in every way possible. By working hard, the team has realized a very beautiful website and a stable, scalable and flexible linked art platform.'

The first phase of the project has been completed and resulted in bringing together over a 1000 works spread over 14 cultural heritage institutions in the Netherlands. With the platform in place incorporating the remainder of the works in the rest of the world (there should be about 800 other works out there) will now be easier. We're looking forward to getting them all united and to further develop the platform.

About the client

Van Gogh Worldwide is a digital platform for scientific knowledge and information about the work of Vincent van Gogh. A high-quality platform for scholarly target groups, presented on an accessible website.

Van Gogh Worldwide is a joint initiative of three founding partners: the Kröller-Müller Museum, the Van Gogh Museum and the RKD - Netherlands Institute for Art History. These three founding partners possess detailed art-historical and material-technical information on Van Gogh's work and combine specialised knowledge about making information digitally available. In bringing all available information together a large number of other partners, including museums, research institutions and private individuals are involved as well.

Van Gogh Worldwide is made possible with support from the Mondriaan Fund and the Vincent van Gogh Foundation.

Marjon van Schendel is project manager of Van Gogh Worldwide. She focuses on projects for linking data from various heritage and library institutions and digitizing relevant collections. She is responsible for the entire chain including onboarding of musea (partners), data quality assurance, Linked Data publishing, and technical development of the platform.


There is a great need among art historians to get access to scientific information about Vincent van Gogh through a single channel.

Behind the screens

Knowledge Graph

What's special about this project is that every participant makes their data available as Linked Data. Large museums (such as the Kröller-Müller Museum, the Van Gogh Museum and the Rijksmuseum) that have collection management systems and in-house expertise supply Linked Data directly. Other institutions and private collections provide their information through RKDimages, a data service of the RKD - Netherlands Institute for Art History. The data is thus delivered in a distributed manner and is only interconnected on the platform.

Because the platform had to support experts in their research, it was decided to publish the data according to the Linked Art data model. This model makes it possible to describe works of art in great detail. It allows for all kinds of object, provenance, exhibition, literature and material-technical information to be added.

However descriptions of materials, types of work and types of subject often differ between institutions. By using thesauri to actually describe the works of art, the descriptions from the separate collection management systems are made uniform. This ensures that if a user filters on 'drawings' in the application, s/he will get all drawings, even if some were defined as a 'tekening' in the original description, for example.

The platform currently supports this kind of filtering for current owners, but not for historical owners or exhibitions. Works can come from different institutions that describe former owners in different ways. The ambition is to achieve this in the next phase of the project.

What we can do for you

In this project the scientific knowledge and information about the work of Vincent van Gogh was integrated by modelling the entities and concepts as Linked Data and by linking them to the entities in the Linked Art Data Model. Spinque Desk was subsequently used to retrieve entities and concepts from the resulting knowledge graph and to present them in various ways.

What entities and concepts would you like your users to retrieve from the data in your domain? Let us know, we are happy to think along!

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