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Basic artwork metadata guidelines

Page history last edited by GregReser 12 months ago


Basic embedded metadata for photos of art and architecture


Looking for more detailed metadata? VRA Bridge Metadata Tools

Question, comments? emwg@vraweb.org




Digital images contain data for such things as the camera model, photographer's name, and date taken. This data is referred to as “embedded metadata.” The following guidelines demonstrate how to create embedded metadata to describe the tangible creative works shown in photographs of art and architecture. The guidelines focus on five metadata fields that are widely used by image processing applications and web services: Creator, Title, Description, Keywords and Copyright Notice.


The aims of the guidelines are:

  • To provide a simple, common sense guide to describing creative works that makes a clear distinction between a work and a digital image of that work, i.e., when was the painting created and when was the photo of the painting taken.
  • To make use of existing embedded metadata features in image applications, without requiring special tools or plugins.
  • To provide a method for entering metadata easily into any image application. 


The guidelines will be helpful to the following types of users, among others:

  • Students describing their own work to share with other students; submit for class projects; contribute to institutional repositories; or post online.
  • Faculty describing their own work to send to colleagues, clients, galleries, museums or publishers; contribute to visual resources center databases and institutional repositories; or use for job applications and tenure reviews.
  • Freelance artists and designers describing their own work to use for web publishing or share with colleagues, clients, galleries and museums.
  • Visual resources professionals looking for a basic embedded metadata set to use for downloadable images.
  • Everyone searching for images in their desktops, or using images for web publishing.





Field Definition Input Instructions





The person who took the photograph of the creative work or, if this is unknown, the institution which commissioned the photograph.

Please use the Description section of this panel to name the creator of the creative work shown in the photograph.

  • Treat as plain text.
  • Max. characters = 64
  • Do not use commas.  why?

The title of the photo as a whole - a short, easy to read identification.

Please use the Title of the creative work shown and any distinguishing view information

  • Plain text.
  • Max. characters = 64
  • Separate title parts with semicolons.  why?



A general summary of information about the creative work shown in the photograph.

Please include Creator; Title; and additional information such as the Date; Dimensions; Medium; Location; Identification number; Rights; etc., according to your local needs.  advice

  • Plain text.
  • Max. characters = 2000
  • Separate work characteristics with semicolons.  why?



Words or phrases used to express the subject matter in the photograph of the creative work.

Keywords or tags can be free text or taken from a controlled vocabulary and should include the events, people, places, and concepts depicted. Additional information such as Creator, Title, Materials, Style and Location of the creative work can be added to increase search results in various photo applications.

  • List of keywords.
  • Max. characters = 64 per keyword. Unlimited number of keywords in the field.
  • A keyword can be a single word (Temples) or a phrase (Doric order).
  • Do not use commas as punctuation  why?

Copyright Notice



Identify the current owner(s) of the copyright for the photograph of the creative work.

For the United States follow the form ©<date of first publication> name of copyright holder.

For additional protection worldwide, use the phrase "All Rights Reserved" following the notice. Example: ©2012 Jane Doe, Photos R Us Press, All Rights Reserved.

  • Plain text.
  • Max. characters = 128
  • You can insert copyright (©) and other symbols.





Painting (detail)


Creator Musée du Louvre / A. Dequier - M. Bard
Title Mona Lisa; detail; head with landscape in background
Description/Caption Leonardo da Vinci; Mona Lisa; ca. 1503-1506; oil on poplar; 77 x 54 cm; Musée du Louvre, Paris; INV. 779; public domain; This portrait was doubtless painted in Florence between 1503 and 1506. It is thought to be of Lisa Gherardini, wife of a Florentine cloth merchant named Francesco del Giocondo - hence the alternative title, La Gioconda.
Keywords oil painting (technique); portraits; women; Renaissance
Copyright Notice © Musée du Louvre/A. Dequier - M. Bard; http://www.louvre.fr/en/conditions-use-images





Creator Peyri Herrera
Title Historical Mural; detail; left side
Description/Caption Toltecas en Aztlan (Guillermo Aranda; Arturo Roman; Salvador Barrajas; Jose Cervantes; Sammy Llamas. Bebe Llamas; Victor Ochoa; Ernest Paul; Guillermo Rosete; Guilbert "Magu" Lujan & M.E.Ch.A. group from U.C. Irvine); renovated, 1988; Chicano Park, San Diego, California
Keywords mural painting; urban parks; Mexican American art; Mexican Americans; Spain; Mexico; history; Politics and government; Chicano Movement
Copyright Notice

Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic




Creator ProSell Archeo [Taken from a Flickr Gallery]
Title Pick Axe; installation view
Description/Caption Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen; Pick Axe; Spitzhacke; 1982; steel painted with polyurethane enamel; 11.2 x 13. 6 x 1.1 m; Documenta 7, Kassel, Germany; ©Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen
Keywords site-specific works, public sculpture, Pop (fine arts styles), scale (relative size), labor, picks (tools), Documenta (7th : 1982 : Kassel Germany)
Copyright Notice ©Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen. May not be reproduced without express written permission from the artists.


Historic Photo of Architecture (digitized from an archival negative)


Creator Department of the Interior. National Park Service
Title Church, Taos Pueblo; Front view of entrance

Ansel Adams (1902–1984); Church, Taos Pueblo National Historic Landmark, New Mexico; 1942 [San Geronimo Chapel]; film negative; National Archives Washington, DC; 79-AA-Q01; Public Domain;

Part of the series: Ansel Adams Photographs of National Parks and Monuments, compiled 1941 - 1942, documenting the period ca. 1933 - 1942; http://arcweb.archives.gov/arc/action/ExternalIdSearch?id=519983 

Keywords Taos Pueblo (N.M.), churches, portals, entrances; crosses, national monuments, national parks
Copyright Notice Public domain; This image or media file contains material based on a work of a National Park Service employee, created during the course of the person's official duties. As a work of the U.S. federal government, such work is in the public domain. http://www.nps.gov/disclaimer.htm 


Title of the photo as a whole - a short, easy to read identification. Please use the Title of the cultural heritage work shown and any distinguishing view information



Creator Steve Tatum
Title Poplar Forest; southwest facade, showing west stairwell, south portico, and wing
Description/Caption Thomas Jefferson; Poplar Forest; Began 1805 or 1806, preservation, restoration and reconstruction began ca. 1986; 1542 Bateman Bridge Road, Forest, VA, USA 24551
Keywords Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826), United States presidents; houses, Palladian, octagonal plan
Copyright Notice © Steve Tatum




Creator Walters Art Museum
Title Penannular Brooch; detail; hoop

Anonymous (Irish Celtic); Penannular Brooch; 6th-7th century (Early Medieval); bronze with traces of gilt; 12.5 x 6.5 x 1.2 cm; 54.2341; Walters Art Museum, 600 N. Charles St. Baltimore, MD, USA; ID: 2120; Public Domain


Keywords metalwork; pins (jewelry); penannular brooches; Celtic; Early Medieval; spirals (geometric figures)
Copyright Notice Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported License and GNU Free Documentation License


Titlof the photo as a whole - a short, easy to read identification. Please use the Title of the cultural heritage work shown and any distinguishing view information

Performance Art


Creator Rainer Rappmann
Title Each Person an Artist; Achberg, Germany, 1978
Description/Caption Joseph Beuys (German, 1921-1986); Each Person an Artist – on the Way to the Freedom Figure of the Social Organism; 1978; Achberg, Germany; public domain in the United States
Keywords Joseph Beuys; performance art
Copyright Notice

Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported License and GNU Free Documentation License





Before you begin


Creator names and commas

  • Some applications use commas as separators (delimiters) to create a list of Creators.
  • If you enter: Joseph H. Taylor, Jr. it might be saved as:
    1. Joseph H. Taylor
    2. , Jr.
  • For maximum interoperability it is best to avoid commas.
  • If you need to use commas, test your application be sure you get the results you expect.


Plain text and semicolons

  • Even though plain text fields don't use separators the way list fields, like Keywords, do, it is still useful to separate independent parts of plain text with semicolons for readability and possible separation by other software.
  • The Description field will likely consist of several distinct pieces of information strung together, such as:
    • Francisco de Goya; The Third of May 1808; 1814; oil on canvas; 68 x 347 cm; Museo del Prado; ID: P00749; Public domain
    • This is a plain text list representing these individual characteristics of a painting:
      • Creator; Title; Date; Material; Measurements; Repository; ID; Rights
  • The (photo) Title field will be a combination of the title of the work and the particular view shown in the photo, such as:
    • Poplar Forest; southwest facade, showing west stairwell, south portico, and wing
    • This is a plain text combination of two individual characteristics:
      • Creative work Title; Photo view
  • By using semicolons it is clear where one characteristic ends and the other starts. Also, semicolons could be used to parse the information into separate columns of a spreadsheet for further processing.



  • Your task is to concisely describe what it is, who made it, where it was made, how it was made, the materials of which it was made, and what it is about.
  • You can follow this with additional information such as construction details or historical context.
  • Be consistent regarding capitalization, punctuation, and syntax. Avoid abbreviations, but when necessary, use standard codes and lists for abbreviations (for example, the ISO abbreviations for countries).


Keywords and commas

  • Some applications use commas and/or semicolons as separators (delimiters) between keywords. Because of this, using commas as regular punctuation should be avoided.
  • If you enter: Castelli, Leo (American art dealer, 1907-1999) it will probably be saved as:
    1. Castelli
    2. Leo (American art dealer
    3. 1907-1999) 
  • To avoid problems, remove commas or replace them with another character:
    1. Leo Castelli (American art dealer. 1907-1999)
  • In some applications, surrounding a phrase containing commas with quotes will fix the problem.. e.g., "Castelli, Leo (American art dealer, 1907-1999)".  This is still risky because other applications might use commas as delimiters and mangle the words. 


Getting started with... 



Creator names and commas

  • Some applications use commas as separators (delimiters) to create a list of Creators.
  • If you enter: Joseph H. Taylor, Jr. it might be saved as:
    1. Joseph H. Taylor
    2. , Jr.
  • For maximum interoperability it is best to avoid commas. 

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