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Cultural Objects Name Authority Online
3. Editorial Rules, continued






Descriptive Note

Included in this chapter






Descriptive Note



A narrative text or prose description and discussion of the work or group of works. The Descriptive Note in CONA is analogous to the Scope Note in AAT and the Descriptive Notes in ULAN and TGN.



A free-text field; values are Unicode characters and numbers. Legacy data and characters outside Unicode (e.g., eszett as distinct from double-s) are represented with codes for diacritics. See discussion in Appendix A: Diacritics. Do not use carriage returns or tabs.



Sources are discussed in a separate section, Sources for Descriptive Note below.



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.

It includes brief scholarly discussions, clarification of other fields, collation statements for manuscripts, and extent statements for archival groups.

  • 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.










Minimum requirements

Optional: Descriptive Note is not required. If a descriptive note is recorded, create 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 categories.

  • Descriptive Note is a repeatable field. If any descriptive note is included, there should always be a descriptive note in English; however, there may be additonal descriptive notes in multiple languages.

  • Each instance of the descriptive note must have a contributor and at least one source.





The descriptive 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:

  • Physical description of the work, including collation statements for manuscripts and extent statements for archival groups. Index physical characteristics in Dimensions and Materials/Technique.

  • A clarification of disputed or uncertain issues concerning attribution, original location, identification of subjects, dating, or other relevant historical information.

  • A concise description and discussion of the subject content and the method of representation.

  • A concise description and discussion of the function or use of the work, and the circumstances surrounding its manufacture or condition.

  • A concise description and discussion of the significance of the work related to other works from the same period, place, artistic school, etc.

  • A discussion of the creator's style, his or her technical expertise, and how this work is representative of his or her oeuvre.

    • Examples

    • [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 and chest.

    • [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 fur.

>>Physical description

    Discuss issues regarding the physical description or extent of the work. Index materials and dimensions in appropriate fields elsewhere in the record..

    • Examples

    • [discusses the manufacture of the work]
    • 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.

      [explains the scope of this record for a Greek vessel]
    • Descriptive Note: This is the primary record for a group of fragments for a partially reconstructed krater whose body is black. On the neck, which is in two registers, are painted various scenes including an Amazonomachy, Peleus and Thetis, and the labors of Herakles.

      [physical description and context]
    • Descriptive Note: Ceremonial object comprising a long, slender conical form with a broad convex foot, resembling a tall, flat-brimmed hat. Its composition is very similar to the previously known Golden Cone of Ezelsdorf-Buch. It was possibly an external covering on a tall, conical, brimmed headdress. It was made of one very thin, seamless piece of gold alloy (up to 90% gold), having circular embossed ornaments applied with 17 small stamps and wheels. The ornamentation has been interpreted as a calendar that permitted the calculation of dates or periods in both lunar and solar calendars, which could be used to predict lunar eclipses. It is one of four known Central European conical golden cones or hat-like objects dating to the Bronze Age; two of the others were found in southern Germany, and one was found in western France.
  • For manuscripts
    For manuscripts and other volumes, include a collation statement describing the contents and layout of the volume. Index the counts in the Dimensions fields.

    • Example

    • Descriptive Note: 237 folios + 1 flyleaf, 1 full-page miniature, 10 three-quarter-page miniatures, 3 one-column miniatures. The Getty Museum's imposing manuscript of Portuguese humanist Vasco da Lucena's Book of the Deeds of Alexander the Great is the product of the interest in classical antiquity that characterized Renaissance humanism. The text is a French translation (Livre des fais d'Alexandre le grant), completed in 1468, of a biography of the Macedonian conqueror Alexander the Great by the first-century Roman writer Quintus Curtius Rufus.
  • For groups
    For a group of works, a set of works, or other groupings, use this subcategory to record the description of the group, noting its extent and contents. Index the counts in the Dimensions fields.

    • Examples

    • [for an archival group]
    • Descriptive Note: 96.0 linear feet (96 boxes, 20 flat files, 3 elephant folios, 1 roll); Guerrilla Girls records document the activities of the feminist art group, comprising a complete set of posters, mass mailings, form letters, and other graphic materials, along with internal group memoranda, letters from fans, business correspondence, and audiovisual materials.

    • Descriptive Note: 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.

    • [for a set of works]
    • 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 pattern.

>>Dating issues

    Discuss issues regarding dating; repeat a concise Display Date for creation and Start Date and End Date in the appropriate fields.

    • Example

    • [discusses creation date, for St. Peter’s, the Vatican]
    • Descriptive Note: Between 1452 and 1455, Bernardo Rossellino drafted a plan to extend the foundation of Old Saint Peter’s. In 1506, Pope Julius commissioned Donato Bramante to continue plans to rebuild Old Saint Peter’s, but by 1515, upon Bramante’s death, only four large pilasters had been erected. In 1546, Michelangelo took over as lead architect. By 1564, upon Michelangelo’s 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.

>>Attribution issues

    Discuss issues regarding attribution; repeat a concise Creator Display and link to artists and patrons in ULAN, using the appropriate fields.

    • Examples

    • Descriptive Note: This print has been attributed to Salvatore Tresca (cf. de Vinck), but is not listed in Le Blanc. The satirical print shows an English nobleman, who has received a letter by John Bull informing him that the paper currency, or assignats, that he possesses have been devalued.

    • Descriptive Note: An unsigned composition with a winged putto, arms, armor, and fragmented sculptural antiquities. Attribution to Bosch from pencil annotation in the lower right corner of mount.

    • Descriptive Note: The painting was produced by Bartolo's workshop but probably executed primarily by the master 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.

>>Context, history, and relationships to other works

    Discuss issues regarding the context of the work in the career of the artist or art history, the history of the work, and the relationship of the work to other works. Link to other works through Associative Relationships or Hierarchical Relationships, as appropriate.

    • Examples

      [for architecture, Melrose Abbey]
    • Descriptive Note: The first abbey of the Cistercian order in Scotland, established in 1136 by David I. It was repeatedly destroyed: by Edward II in 1322, by Richard II in 1385, and by the English in 1545. The abbey was completely rebuilt following the 1385 damage. It was secualized in 1609.

      [a relationship to another work is mentioned]

    • Descriptive Note: Poussin used this study in formulating a painting now in the Museo del Prado. This drawing is based on Raphael’s 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.

    • [record for a destroyed painting]
    • Descriptive Note: Rubens' original painting was destroyed in the fire at the Royal Alcázar of Madrid in 1734. A copy by Velázquez and others is preserved in the Uffizi.

    • [for a painting by Giovanni Lanfranco]
    • Descriptive Note: There are other two versions of this subject in which Lanfranco uses the same basic composition for the main group of figures, although they are rectangular in shape; both are in private collections.

    • [reference to style and significance of work]
    • Descriptive Note: In this work Piper is exploring the alternatives to conventional picture-making represented by the still-life collages of Braque and Picasso. Piper had met Braque in about 1927, and seen Picasso’s collage works in Paris. The window sill still-life was a compositional device that allowed a flattening of the picture space.

    • [reference to another work]
    • Descriptive Note: Among the world's most famous artifacts, the Ardabil carpet and its mate in the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, are products of the great flowering of the arts, particularly those of textile and the book, under the Safavid rulers of Iran. The site of Ardabil in northwest Iran was sacred to these Shiite rulers; tradition holds that both carpets were presented to the shrine there as royal gifts, and current scholarship confirms this.

    • [relationship to a set]
    • Descriptive Note: A set of thirty-two works commissioned by the Forsters for presentation to George III. An acrimonious dispute with the Admiralty meant that the Forsters’ images never reached their intended audience.

    • [discussion of the state]
    • Descriptive Note: The prints are possibly a later state or a copy of Callot's etchings from the suite titled Capricci di varie figure, that was first published in Florence around 1617, and later again in Nancy. The impression of the suite does not comprise the second plate, dedicated to Lorenzo de' Medici. Most of the prints are numbered in arabic at the upper left 1-46. Plate 46 depicts a fireworks display in Florence over the Arno; Bound in the volume are also copies or impressions of the etchings from the suite titled Balli di sfessania.

>>Depicted subject is discussed

    Explain the depicted subject, motifs, method of representation, and other topics having to do with subject in the descriptive note. Index the subject in Depicted Subject.

    • Examples

    • [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 differently.

      [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 Dosso Dossi]
    • 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.

>>Order of topics in the Descriptive Note

  • List 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.





Spelling of AAT, ULAN, and TGN terms

If you refer to another CONA title in the descriptive note, use the preferred title for that record.

  • Use the descriptors of AAT terms in the discussion, if possible.

  • If you use a TGN name, use the preferred English name for the place.

  • If you use a ULAN name, use the preferred display name (natural order form) for the person or corporate body.





Simplicity and clarity
The descriptive note must be concise, clear, and include only essential information. Include only the most important and critical characteristics of the work. State the differentiating characteristics precisely.

  • Avoid overly technical terminology. In the note, use relatively simple terminology that will be familiar to the end-user. Keeping in mind that most CONA users will be specialists in art and architecture, and thus will understand some specialized terminology in these fields. However, if you must use a highly specialized term that is likely to be unknown to most users, define it in the descriptive note.





The descriptive note should be brief and concise. It is intended to clarify issues and touch upon the major relevant points; it is not a comprehensive encyclopedia entry.

  • A minimum note may be one or two lines of text.

  • Do not write notes longer than 250 words (or 1,500 characters with spaces, or 25 lines in the VCS Note window). Even though the descriptive note could, according to the database limitations, contain up to 4,000 characters, it is contrary to editorial policy to write long, compendious notes. If you feel you must write a note significantly longer than 1,500 characters, consult with your supervisor.

    • Examples

    • [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.





Use authoritative sources
All information in the descriptive note must be derived from an authoritative source. Cite your source and page number.

  • Cite the source
    It is required to cite your source and page number. See Sources for Scope Note below.

  • Plagiarism
    Do not plagiarize: You may paraphrase the information, but do not copy it verbatim.

  • Literary sources
    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.

  • Currency of the information: 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.
    • Examples

    • [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 details.
      Source: 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."
      Source: J. Paul Getty Museum Handbook of the Collections (2008)
      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).
      Source: Metropolitan Museum of Art online
      accessed 1 February 2010





Be objective
Avoid bias or critical judgment. Express all information in a neutral tone. Do not write from a subjective or biased point of view, even if your source expresses a fact in a subjective way.

  • Avoid negative statements
    Use affirmative statements when possible. Generally state in positive what the art work is rather than what it is not or what it or the artist is lacking.

  • People, events, art works
    Do not express biased views about rulers, other people, art, architecture, or events. That is, do not express views that are subjectively negative; likewise, do not express positive information in a subjective way. Instead, state views that are held by the scholarly or professional community in an objective way.

  • Controversial subjects
    When referring to a disputed or controversial matter, remain perfectly neutral, giving equal emphasis to both points of view. 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.

  • Religious and cultural biases
    Avoid using language that expresses biased views about religion or religious groups. Do not state or imply negative or Western-centric views about native peoples.

    • Avoid using terminology for that may be considered offensive by groups of people. For example, when speaking of the indigenous populations of the Americas, avoid the term "Indian," which is often offensive and also ambiguous. If you don't know the name of the tribe or need to speak in general terms, use "Native American," "Amerindian" (where appropriate), or "First Nations" (where appropriate).





Uncertainty and ambiguity
Explain any controversies or ambiguous issues. If an issue is in dispute, be careful not to express it as a certain fact.

  • Displuted information
    Explain any controversies or issues regarding the attribution to an artist or any other facts that are in dispute among scholars or experts.

  • Knowable vs. unknowable information: On the other hand, be careful not to imply that a fact is unknown simply because you happen not to know it (generally because time and editorial priorities do not allow you to do the research required to resolve the issue). If a fact is knowable (but just not known by you), it is generally better to omit it entirely rather than to state it with qualifying phrases such as "probably," because this implies more knowledge of the issue than you have.

  • Disagreement among sources
    Know your sources. When two sources disagree, prefer the information obtained from the most scholarly, authoritative, recent source.





Indexing important information
Caveat: The Descriptive Note is not an access point for retrieval. Therefore, if you mention important information in the Descriptive Note, in order to facilitate retrieval, index it in the appropriate controlled fields elsewhere in the record (e.g., in Titles/Names, Display Dates, Associative Relationships, or alternate Hierarchical Relationships).

  • Explain information indexed elsewhere
    Explain uncertainty, ambiguity, or complexities surrounding terms, associative relationships, or hierarchical relationships. Index terms and relationships in the appropriate fields.

  • Display Date notes
    In addition to the Scope Note, you may also use the Display Dates for Titles/Names, Hierarchical relationships, and Associative relationships to briefly express information or uncertainty. In fact, if the information is directly related to one of these other fields, it should be recorded in a Display Date (and repeated in the Descriptive Note, if necessary). Note that Display Dates may refer to subjects other than date, but must be indexed with Earliest and Latest Dates. See the appropriate section for instructions regarding Display Dates.





When to include a Descriptive Note

  • For important works
    It is recommended to record descriptive notes for famous works of art and architecture, and for works with records contributed by several different contributors.

  • For uncertain information
    If artist attribution, dates, roles, locations, or other indexed information is uncertain, or if other fields do not offer adequate opportunity to discuss an important topic (e.g., how an unusual work was created), you may explain it in the Descriptive Note.

  • For other works
    Add descriptive notes for other works as time and editorial priorities allow.





Style of the note [1]
Follow rules for the language of the descriptive note. Each record should have one descriptive note in English. Below are basic rules for notes in English. Use standard grammar and syntax of the language for notes in other languages.

  • Complete sentences
    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.

    • Follow all other grammatical rules for standard English composition.

  • Capitalization and Punctuation
    Use sentence case (not all capitals or title case). Capitalize proper names.

    • In general: The first word of the descriptive note should begin with an uppercase letter. The note should end with a period. If you use complete sentences, begin each sentence with a capital letter and end with a period. Use the semi-colon to separate phrases.

    • Serial comma: Use a comma before and and or in a series of three or more.

    • Quotation marks: Use quotation marks when citing a work title within the note. Place periods and commas that punctuate the paragraph inside quotation marks. Place semi-colons and colons outside the quotation marks.

    • Parentheses: Use parentheses sparingly (commas usually suffice to set apart a statement). Parentheses may be used to express an example (using "e.g.,"), dates for a named person or event, or occasionally as a parenthetical phrase in a complex sentence in order to avoid ambiguity.

    • Dashes. Do not use dashes to set apart a phrase. Instead use commas or rephrase.

  • Diacritics
    Names and other words in foreign languages may be used within the note when there is no commonly used English equivalent. Values may be Unicode or expressed using diacritical codes in Appendix A: Diacritics.

  • Paragraphs
    The note must be written as one paragraph. Do not include a carriage return or tab.

  • Abbreviations
    Avoid abbreviations.

    • Exceptions: The following abbreviations are preferred to spelling out the words:




before current era


current era

    • Ampersand. Do not use ampersands; always spell out and, unless it is a proper name correctly spelled with an ampersand.

    • Prefer First World War, Second World War; however, World War I or World War II are also acceptable. Avoid WW I and WW II.

    • Prefer United States not US or U.S.; USA is acceptable, because it is the "display name" for that nation in TGN.

  • Referring to dates
    A short set of rules appears below. For further discussion of Dates, consult the rules for Display Dates (which are short notes) in Appendix B: Dates.

    • BCE and CE: Prefer BCE and CE; avoid BC and AD. Unless otherwise designated, years will be assumed to be CE. However, to avoid end-user confusion, use CE for dates within a few hundred years of year 1.

    • Very ancient dates: For very ancient dates, use before present or years ago; use whichever convention your source uses. Do not abbreviate as BP or YA; do not use BCE. For very ancient dates, use about rather than ca. (e.g., created about 75,000 years ago).

    • Hyphen: Spans of years: Separate the years with a hyphen. Do not omit digits in the second year (e.g., 1911-1943, NOT 1911-43). Do not use M-dash, N-dash, or other special characters.

    • Apostrophe: Do not use an apostrophe when referring to decades or a century (e.g., in the 1920s, NOT 1920's; 1500s, not 1500's).

    • Century: Spell out century and millennium; do not abbreviate unless absolutely necessary. However, use numeric expressions rather than spelling out the names of numbers (e.g., 15th century, in the early 20th century, in the 15th and 16th centuries, prior to 1st millennium BCE).

    • Hyphens with centuries: When the date is substantive, do not use a hyphen (e.g., during the 15th century).

      • When the date is an adjective, hyphenate it (e.g., in 15th-century paintings; early-20th-century architecture). In a span of multiple centuries, first century mentioned must have hyphen and then space (e.g., in 15th- and 16th-century paintings).

      • Mid is a prefix and always needs a hyphen (e.g., in the mid-19th century, mid-19th-century artists).

    • More re. centuries: Emulate the following examples. Where the preposition precedes the whole phrase and the only thing intervening between the two century names is a conjunction, sometimes with an adjective, the plural "centuries" is used. Where a preposition intervenes, the singular "century" is used.

      • In: in the 17th and early 18th centuries
      • Between: between the 17th and 18th centuries
      • From/to: from the 17th to the 19th century.
  • Referring to Numbers

    • Numerals vs. numbers written out. Spell out numbers from one to ten, inclusive, unless they are measurements or dates (e.g., having two apprentices but an area of 2 acres, in the 2nd century). Beyond ten, use numerals, unless the number begins a phrase or sentence, then write it out. Exception: when a sentence begins with a century, use the numeral (e.g., 19th-century developments having...).

    • Superscript and other special characters: Do not use superscripts; never paste them in from Word or Web pages. For example, for "th" or "1/2" type, 19th-century NOT 19th--century. Do not use M-dash, N-dash, or other special characters.

    • Fractional numbers: Spell out the value when referring to portions of land, buildings, money, populations, or other objects (e.g., one half of the town, two thirds of the population). Use a hyphen if used as an adjective (e.g., valued at one-fourth pence or a church two-thirds destroyed).

      For measurements, in the descriptive note you may use either decimals (e.g., 4.5 miles), or fractions (e.g., 2 1/2 x 4 inches), depending upon what is offered by your source. Include both if you know them.

  • Measurements

    • Metric units or inches, miles, etc.: You may express measurements using either metric units or inches, feet, yards, or miles, depending upon what is offered by your source. Provide both if known. (In the Display Dimensions field, you must use both.)

    • Spell out inches, feet, yards, miles. Use standard codes for metric units: mm, cm, km. Do not use periods after the codes for metric units.

    • Use an "x" between two dimensions (e.g., 2.2 x 6 mm); it is also allowed to use "by" (e.g., 2.2 by 6 mm) but be consistent within the context of each note. You need state the unit only at the end (i.e., not 2.2 mm x 6 mm). For dimensions, express them height by width by depth, or length by width by depth.

    • Omit the space between the number and the metric code if the measurement is used as an adjective (e.g., "…was 35 mm long" distance but "documented with 35mm film.").

  • English versions of proper names
    For proper names of places, people, corporate bodies, buildings and other works of art, use the preferred English name. Use the preferred English name in CONA, ULAN, or TGN, as appropriate.

  • Capitalized words

    • Proper names: Capitalize proper names as appropriate, following ULAN editorial rules for persons' names and using the TGN preferred English name, as warranted; follow AACR rules for other proper names.

    • Capitalization: Special cases

      • Prefer Bible and Biblical capitalized. (the preferred term in AAT is capitalized.)

      • Use the lowercase adjective classical unless you are referring specifically to the 5th-century Greek period by that name, when you should capitalize Classical.

      • If you are referring specifically to the planet Earth as a place name (as when discussing its physical feature), capitalize it (as you would for the name of any other planet). When speaking metaphorically, use lowercase earth or avoid using the word earth; instead, use world ("the tallest structure in the world," not "the tallest structure on earth").






  • Titles of books and art works
    If the title of a book, art work, or other work is mentioned in a note, put the title in quotation marks (VCS does not allow for italics). Capitalize the title as appropriate, following VP editorial rules for citations.

  • Common grammatical and spelling errors

    • "Which" versus "that": Generally, if the subordinate clause is dependent for its meaning on its prior noun, then use that (e.g., A medieval church that is characterized …).

      • If the trailing clause can stand alone and the initial clause can stand alone, then use which (e.g., Developed from an earlier machine, which itself was … or A system of beliefs under which …). In general, because descriptive notes are tightly worded, there will be comparatively few instances where which would be used.

    • Hyphens: Words beginning with non or ending in like do not need hyphens unless any of the following is true:

      • If the root word is a proper noun (e.g., write Picasso-like).

      • If it results in two or three "l"s or two "n"s in a row (e.g., write tool-like, shell-like but towerlike, tablelike.)

      • With semi- , which is usually a prefix, and thus needs a hyphen; but some words have closed up with heavy usage. Use standard dictionaries as a guides.

      • With self-, which always takes a hyphen when used as a prefix.

      • With an adverb ending in "ly" followed by an adjective, you do not need a hyphen (e.g., critically acclaimed design).

    • Toward: Prefer toward and forward, not towards or forwards (a preference more than strict rule).

    • And/or: Do not use and/or if it can possibly be avoided. It can usually be rephrased using one or the other without suggesting that the inclusion or exclusion of one or the other is absolute.

    • Double consonants: For verbs with "ing" or "ed" endings where either a single or a doubled consonant is acceptable, prefer the single consonant (e.g., traveling, modeling).










Sources for the Descriptive Note





A reference to the sources used for information in the Descriptive Note, typically published sources.




  • Brief Citation: A brief reference to the source. See Appendix C: Citations.

  • Full Citation: A full citation for the source, including the author's name, title, and place and date of publication. See Appendix C: Citations.



Sources for the citations are title pages of the works.

  • Values are controlled by the Sources file in VCS. A source must be added to the Source file in order to be used in (linked to) the Subject (place) record. For a discussion of how to add sources to the Sources file, see Appendix C: Citations.



  • It is required to cite the sources used to write the Descriptive Note. In the Page Field, it is required to cite the volume, page number, date of accessing a Web site, or other appropriate indication of the specific location of the information in the source.

    • Examples

    • Brief Citation: Princeton Encyclopedia (1979)
      Full Citation: Princeton Encyclopedia of Classical Sites. 2nd ed. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1979.
      Page: 29

    • Brief Citation: Encyclopedia Britannica Online (2002-)
      Full Citation: Encyclop$70aedia Britannica. Britannica Online. Chicago: Encyclopedia Britannica, Inc., 2002-. (1 July 2002).
      Page: "Himalayas," accessed 29 July 2004
  • If there are multiple editions or multiple publication dates for a source, link to the specific source that you are using.

  • If there is an author indicated for an encyclopedia article (e.g., Grove), whereas you need not list the full author and article name if it is a source for only a name, if you have paraphrased significant information in the descriptive note, give the author credit by citing the article name and author in the page field.

    • Examples

    • Brief Citation: Grove Dictionary of Art online (1999-2002)
      Full Citation: Grove Dictionary of Art (online edition). Jane Turner, ed. New York: Macmillan Publishing Ltd., 1999-2002. (3 December 1999).
      Page: Lowenthal, Anne W., "Claesz, Pieter," accessed 3 March 2010

    • Brief Citation: New Catholic Encyclopedia (1967-1979)
      Full Citation: Catholic University of America. New Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Publishers Guild in association with McGraw-Hill Book Co., 1967-1979.
      Page: Vailh$00e, S.,"Caesarea Palaestinae," 3:89 ff.
  • For rules for constructing Brief and Full Citations, see Appendix C: Citations. The Brief Citation should be a short reference to the source. The Full Citation is full reference to the published or unpublished work.


Preferred sources
Some commonly used sources for Descriptive Notes include the following:

  • Major art dictionaries and encyclopedia.

  • Official repository publications, including catalogs and Web sites.

  • Monographs on artists or other books on specialized art or architecture subjects.

  • Text books and articles on the history of art and architecture.


Translating the Descriptive Note

  • Consult rules for translating AAT Scope Notes, which may be extrapolated for use in translating descriptive notes. See Translating the scope note and Creating a new scope note.

  • Translations should be done only by experienced translators who are bilingual or at minimum expert in both English and the target language. It is also highly recommended that the translator is a subject expert in the period of art history relevant to the work being described.

  • When translating the Descriptive Note from English into another language, the second descriptive note should include the same information as the original English descriptive note, but it need not be a direct, literal translation. While translating, if you find that important information is missing from the original English descriptive note, or if the English descriptive note is incorrect or outdated, please consult with the Vocabulary editors.






Contributor for the Descriptive Note


A reference to the institution or project that contributed the Descriptive Note.


Controlled by a link to a file of controlled terminology; the list changes as new contributors are added.

  • Examples
  • AS-Academia Sinica



  • It is required to have at least one contributor for every descriptive note.

  • The default Contributor is VP (Vocabulary Program). Other contributors' initials will have been added during the data load, and typically do not need to be edited. If you feel it is necessary to change a link from one contributor to another, consult with your supervisor.

  • If you are adding data by hand, even if the data was given to you in a printout or other form by an institution or project that is a contributor, the contributor should be VP because the Vocabulary Program is actually entering the data (and thus some amount of interpretation is going on). The Source of the Descriptive Note would refer to the institution or project, but they are NOT the Contributor.




Language for the Descriptive Note


The language of the Descriptive Note. Ideally, one descriptive notes in CONA is written in English. However descriptive notes in other languages may be included.



  • 1. Language: Word or words referring to the language of the term.

  • 2. Language Code: A unique code for the language.


As of this writing, controlled by the languages file. In time, the languages will be controlled by a link to the AAT language hierarchy.



  • It is required to flag the language of the descriptive note. If there is any descriptive note, there must be a descriptive note in English.

  • Descriptive Note is repeatable. Descriptive notes may be translated into multiple languages. There may be only one descriptive note in each language.

  • Flag the appropriate language for every descriptive note. Do not write a descriptive note in a language other than English unless you are an expert in that language. Most descriptive notes in other languages will be acquired through bulk contributions.

  • American and British English: It should not be necessary to write separate descriptive notes in American and British English, given that most words are spelled the same in both “languages.” Descriptive notes in English should be flagged with language = English.



[1]Rules and examples in this chapter are compliant with CDWA and CCO.


Last updated 1 October 2015
Document is subject to frequent revisions

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