A textual description of the work, including a discussion of issues related
to it. Important information in this note should be indexed in other appropriate
The DESCRIPTIVE NOTE should contain a single coherent statement covering
some or all of the salient characteristics and historical significance
of the work of art or architecture. Topics covered in the note may include
a discussion of the subject, function, or significance of the work.
As a supplement to information recorded in controlled fields, free-text
notes, such as the DESCRIPTIVE NOTE, allow for the nuance and detail necessary
to capture a precise description. This makes it possible to include very
specific details that cannot be described in other elements.
For the subcategories in this section, basic recommendations
and discussion are provided below. For a fuller, more prescriptive
set of cataloging rules for some of the subcategories, see
Chapter 8: Description in
Cataloging Cultural Objects (CCO), which deals with a
critical subset of the CDWA.
CATEGORIES and ACCESS
information in the DESCRIPIVE NOTE, including proper names and dates,
should be indexed in the appropriate categories, including the following:
CREATION, CONTEXT, RELATED WORKS, SUBJECT MATTER, and PHYSICAL DESCRIPTION.
The DESCRIPTIVE NOTE provides a succinct note about the work in a form
easily read by end users; however, there may be many other free-text note
fields in an object/work record. The required number and type of notes
should be determined by the cataloging institution. In addition to the
DESCRIPTIVE NOTE, notes may be attached to any category in the CDWA by
using the REMARKS subcategory. In addition, many categories have an additional
subcategory dedicated to description or display for that category, which
is then indexed in controlled subcategories (e.g., SUBJECT MATTER - DISPLAY,
which is optional, may be used in addition to or instead of DESCRIPTIVE
NOTE when discussing the subject; the indexing subcategory SUBJECT MATTER
- INDEXING TERMS is required).
18.1. Descriptive Note Text
narrative text or prose description and discussion of the work or group
[for Adoration of the Magi by Bartolo di Fredi, ca. 1400, Pinacoteca,
The Adoration of the Magi in Siena was produced by Bartolo's workshop
but probably executed primarily by Bartolo di Fredi himself. Although
it is unknown where the altarpiece originally stood, the quality of
the materials, large size, and the influence that the work had on other
artists are all evidence of an expensive commission and prominent location,
possibly in the cathedral of Siena. It illustrates the artist's late
stylistic concerns and was extremely influential in Siena and elsewhere.
[for Revised competition design for the New Houses of Parliament,
Westminster London, by Sir Charles Barry, ca. 1836, Drawing Center,
British Architectural Library of the Royal Institute of British Architects,
After the destruction by fire of the Houses of Parliament on the
night of 16th October 1834, it was decided to hold an architectural
competition for a new building. Of the ninety-seven designs submitted,
Charles Barry's scheme won the first prize. His success lay in a well
conceived plan and in the collaboration of A.W.N. Pugin to whom is owed
the inventive Gothic detail that is so important a part of the new Palace
of Westminster. From February 1836 (when the competition result was
announced) continuous modifications to the original design were made
to meet changing requirements and the elevations shown here were drawn
after the competition and before the finalized design. As built, the
north and south fronts are shorter, the keep-like Victoria Tower stops
the south-west corner, and the Clock Tower, not designed in its final
form until the mid-1840s, stops the north-west corner. 
[for a group of works]
152 design drawings and models for the East Building project that I.
M. Pei & Partners gave to the archives of the National Gallery of
Art in 1986.
Optional: Record a brief essay-like text that describes
the content and context of the work, discussing some or all of the salient
characteristics and historical significance of the work of art or architecture,
including a discussion of the significance, function, or subject of the
work Enter information clearly and concisely. Capture salient points that
are not already fully described in other elements.
Use natural word order. You may use phrases or complete sentences, but
always begin the note with capital letter and end it with a period. Use
sentence case (not all capitals or title case). Capitalize proper names.
Avoid abbreviations. Write the note in the language of the catalog record
(English in the United States). Names and other words in foreign languages
may be used within the note when there is no commonly used English equivalent.
Use diacritics as appropriate.
note serves to qualify, explain, supplement and integrate information
about the work. Topics covered in the DESCRIPTIVE NOTE may include those
listed below. Omit any of these topics if they are not significant or
are explained adequately in other elements:
1. A clarification of disputed or uncertain issues concerning
attribution, original location, identification of subjects,
dating, or other relevant historical information.
2. A concise description and discussion of the subject content
and the method of representation.
3. A concise description and discussion of the function
or use of the work, and the circumstances surrounding its
manufacture or condition.
4. A concise description and discussion of the significance
of the work related to other works from the same period,
place, artistic school, etc.
5. A discussion of the creator's style, his or her technical
expertise, and how this work is representative of his or
information in the order of importance, chronologically, or from general
to specific, depending upon which is appropriate for the particular work.
If none of the above ways of ordering information applies to the work,
list information in this order: What is the work (work type, subject,
style), who is responsible for it, where was it made, when
was it made.
For a group of works, use this subcategory to record the description
of the group, noting its extent and contents.
The following recommendations may be adjusted to accommodate
local needs and preferences:
All information in the descriptive note must be derived from
an authoritative source. It is highly recommended to cite
your source and page number. Do not plagiarize: You may paraphrase
the information, but do not copy it verbatim. If information
in the note ultimately comes from a literary or unreliable
source (as opposed to a modern reliable source), be careful
not to state it as if it were proven fact. Do not use this
note to record extremely volatile situations that may change
in a few months or years. Instead, situations recorded here
should be relatively long-standing.
Explain any controversies or issues regarding the attribution
to an artist or any other facts that are in dispute among
scholars or experts. If an issue is in dispute, be careful
not to express it as a certain fact. When two sources disagree,
prefer the information obtained from the most scholarly, authoritative,
Be objective. Avoid bias or critical judgment, either positive
or negative. Express all information in a neutral tone, including
artistic styles, comparison to other works, rulers, other
people, art, architecture, events, politics. Do not write from
a subjective or biased point of view, even if your source
expresses a fact or discusses a topic, such as politics or religion,.in a subjective way.
Free text: This is not a controlled field. Use consistent
format and syntax when possible. Any
significant information in the DESCRIPTIVE NOTE should be recorded in
the appropriate controlled fields, including significant people, corporate
bodies, subjects, dates, media, and techniques.
Additional comments pertinent to the information recorded in the DESCRIPTIVE
NOTE - TEXT.
DISCUSSION and GUIDELINES
Optional: Record a note containing additional
information or comments on this category. Use consistent syntax
and format. For rules regarding writing notes, see rules for
DESCRIPTIVE NOTE above.
Free-text: This is not a controlled field.
Use consistent syntax and format.
of the sources used for information recorded in DESCRIPTIVE NOTE - TEXT.
Optional: Cite the source or sources used.
It is optional but highly recommended to record the source
of the note, particularly if you have used a certain source
or sources extensively and/or if the information represents
an opinion or is not widely available, or if you are paraphrasing
from the source.
Form and syntax
Display the BRIEF CITATION for the source, as described in
RELATED TEXTUAL REFERENCES. Alternatively, display the FULL
CITATION from RELATED TEXTUAL REFERENCES.
Avoid copying a source verbatim. If you must do so, place
the quote within quotation marks in the DESCRIPTIVE NOTE;
then generally cite the source briefly in the DESCRIPTIVE
NOTE and give a full citation in DESCRIPTIVE NOTE - CITATIONS.
Authority: Ideally, this information is controlled
by citations in the citations authority; see RELATED TEXTUAL
Page number, volume, date accessed for Web sites, and any
other information indicating where in the source the information
DISCUSSION and GUIDELINES
Optional: For a full set of rules for PAGE,
see RELATED TEXTUAL REFERENCES - CITATIONS - PAGE.
Free-text: This is not a controlled field.
Use consistent syntax and format.
[discusses the artist's style, for a sculpture]
Descriptive Note: The virtuosity of the sculptor is apparent
in the rendering of a variety of textures, including flesh, hair, lace,
and satins. Verhulst has employed decorative foliage and curving volutes
below the armor to mitigate the truncation of the figure at the shoulders
[discusses the subject, for a portrait of a woman with her cat]
Descriptive Note: The sitter was from the provincial French
region of Orléans, but the artist imbued her with Parisian sophistication.
The cat she holds is known as a "Chartreux cat," descriptions
of which first appeared in 18th-century France. While some at this time
valued this breed as a companion animal, it was primarily bred for its
[subject is discussed, for a Japanese Edo screen]
Descriptive Note: This scene represents a popular episode
in the 10th-century "Ise Monogatari" (The Tales of Ise) series
of poems on love and journeying; in this episode, a young aristocrat
comes to a place called Eight Bridges (Yatsuhashi) where a river branched
into eight channels, each spanned by a bridge. He writes a poem of five
lines about irises growing there. The poem expresses his longing for
his wife left behind in the capital city.
[discusses uncertainty regarding the subject, for a painting by
Descriptive Note: The painting's precise meaning is uncertain,
although it seems to be an allegory with the message that prosperity
in life is transitory and dependent on luck. The nude woman apparently
represents Fortune, holding a cornucopia containing the bounty that
she could bring; however, she sits on a bubble, which could burst at
any moment. The man personifies chance; he holds up lottery tickets,
which he is about to place inside a golden urn, a timely reference to
the civic lotteries that had just become popular in Italy. The tickets
may also refer to the painting's probable patron, Isabella d'Este, Marchioness
of Mantua. One of her emblems was a bundle of lots, denoting her personal
experience with fluctuating fortune.
[for a group, discusses the contents of the group]
Descriptive Note: Comprises a pair of candlesticks, an
inkwell (with a purple glass liner), pen tray and a letter knife. Each
piece is engraved and decorated in light blue enamel with an angular
[a relationship to another work is mentioned, for a drawing of Apollo
and the Muses on Parnassus]
Descriptive Note: Poussin used this study in formulating
a painting now in the Museo del Prado. This drawing is based on Raphaels
famous fresco in the Stanza della Segnatura in the Vatican. The drawing
is more animated than is typical for Poussin, but it shows his characteristic
tendency to abstract forms and to employ wash quite broadly.
[relationship to other works is mentioned]
Descriptive Note: In May 1891 Monet began
his first series, using wheatstacks just outside his garden
at Giverny, producing 30 canvases depicting wheatstacks
in various conditions of light and weather.
[discusses the manufacture of the work, for a work by contemporary
artist, Robert Smithson]
Descriptive Note: The Spiral Jetty was a counterclockwise
coil of mud, salt crystals, rocks, which were hauled in by truck, but
were indigenous elements of the landscape at Great Salt Lake. While
clockwise spirals were powerful positive forces, the artist equated
this counterclockwise spiral with destruction and entropy, drawing upon
symbolism from many cultures.
[discusses the manufacture of the work, for an ancient Mississippian
Descriptive Note: This bannerstone is a double-crescent-shaped
stone, typical of the "winged" type. Although the purpose
of bannerstones is uncertain, it is assumed that they were status symbols
in the form of adornments or insignia, perhaps carried on a wooden staff
(with the holes arranged vertically); many scholars believe that bannerstones
formed part of an atlatl (a stick used in pre-Columbian cultures to
[discusses method of representation, for an architectural drawing]
Descriptive Note: The drawing depicts a longitudinal section
of the cathedral, showing that the main dome and minor ones are constructed
[discusses subject and influences, for an architectural work, the
Lincoln Memorial, Washington, DC]
Descriptive Note: The design was influenced by the Greek
Parthenon. Built into the design are symbols of the Union; for example,
the 36 exterior Doric columns represent the 36 states in the Union at
the time of Lincoln's death.
[comprises a physical description, for a Koran]
Descriptive Note: The Ibn al-Bawwab Koran is a small volume
containing 286 brownish paper folios. Each text has fifteen lines of
round script written with a straight-cut reed pen to produce letters
of uniform thickness. The brown ink is enhanced with blue and gold.
[discusses creation date, for St. Peters, the Vatican]
Descriptive Note: Between 1452 and 1455, Bernardo Rossellino
drafted a plan to extend the foundation of Old Saint Peters. In
1506, Pope Julius commissioned Donato Bramante to continue plans to
rebuild Old Saint Peters, but by 1515, upon Bramantes death,
only four large pilasters had been erected. In 1546, Michelangelo took
over as lead architect. By 1564, upon Michelangelos death, plans
and construction for the dome were under way, but the dome was not completed
until 1593 under the architects Dominico Fontana and Giacomo della Porta.
Between 1603 and 1614, Carlo Maderno directed the construction of the
nave and portico, and Bernini laid out the Piazza San Pietro 1656-1667.
[source is cited, for an ancient Egyptian bas relief;
a brief citation is displayed, which would include a link
to the full citation for the source]
Descriptive Note: Mentuhotep II was the founder of the
Middle Kingdom, reuniting Egypt after the chaotic First Intermediate
Period. This relief comes from his mortuary temple at Deir el-Bahri
in western Thebes. The high standards of the royal Theban workshops
are evident in the delicately modeled low relief and the finely painted
Citation: Hibbard, Metropolitan Museum of
Art (1986) Page: 30.
[source is cited, for Van Gogh's Irises]
Descriptive Note: This work was painted when the artist
was recuperating from a severe attack of mental illness; it depicts
the garden at the asylum at Saint-Rémy. The cropped composition,
divided into broad areas of vivid color with monumental irises overflowing
the borders of the picture, was probably influenced by the decorative
patterning of Japanese woodblock prints. There are no known drawings
for this painting; Van Gogh himself considered it a study. His brother
Theo recognized its quality and submitted it to the Salon des Indépendants
in September 1889, writing to Vincent of the exhibition: "[It]
strikes the eye from afar. It is a beautiful study full of air and life."
Citation: J. Paul Getty Museum Handbook of
the Collections (1991) Page: 129
[online source is cited, discusses relationships to contemporary
works, for a statue of Parvati]
Descriptive Note: As was typical of this period, this
sculpture was created using the lost-wax technique, meaning each sculpture
requires a separate wax model and thus is unique. Iconographic conventions
for this figure include the conical crown with mountain-like (karandamukuta)
tiers, swaying hips in a triple-bend (tribhanga) pose, and the one hand
is posed as if holding a flower. Parvati in this pose is often placed
beside Shiva in his role as Lord of the Dance (Nataraja).
Citation: Metropolitan Museum of Art online
Page: accessed 1 February 2004
NOTE: The outline numbers are subject to change; they are
intended only to organize this document.
Revised 5 February 2010