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3. Editorial Rules, continued






Descriptive Note

Included in this chapter






Descriptive Note


A Note that provides descriptive information about the artist or expands upon information recorded in other fields.

  • Descriptive Note is a repeatable field. If there is any Descriptive Note, there should always be a descriptive note in English, but there may be multiple descriptive notes in multiple languages. Each instance of the descriptive note has a contributor and at least one source.

  • As a first priority, make descriptive notes for the most important artists and those whose names, biographies, or identities have outstanding issues or ambiguities.



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



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






Minimum requirements
Descriptive Note is not required. Balance the number and length of descriptive notes written against your editorial priorities and your daily quota.



This note deals primarily with artistic activity. It may also clarify or explain information related to the biography of the artist or history of the corporate body. Topics typically should be structured in the note according to the order below, omitting topics as necessary, depending upon what is important or relevant to the person or corporate body being described. Topics may include the following:

    • disputed issues or ambiguity regarding names or facts
    • facts regarding the life of a person or founding and dissolution of a corporate body
    • brief explanation of with whom the artist studied
    • characteristics of the style of the artist or firm (only if you are an art historian or otherwise experienced in writing about style)
    • description of the artist's stylistic development (only if you are an art historian or otherwise experienced in writing about style)

      • Example
        [for Bartolommeo Bulgarini]
      • Note: Phases of Bartolommeo's career were formerly attributed to anonymous masters known as Ugolino Lorenzetti and the Master of the Ovile Madonna. Bartolommeo's early works were heavily influenced by Pietro Lorenzetti and Ugolino di Nerio. During the 1350s, he followed the fashion in Siena by returning to the two dimensionality, fluid lines, and decorative details of Simone Martini. He worked primarily in Tuscany, painting extensively for various Sienese churches, including five panels for Santa Maria della Scala, where he and his wife were lay members of its charitable society. He held minor public offices in Siena. He died on 4 September 1378.



Use authoritative sources
All information in the descriptive note must be derived from an authoritative source. A brief list of sources appears below under Sources for Descriptive Note.

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

      • Example
        [for Bonanno Pisano]
      • Note: Bonanno was the designer of the bronze doors of Pisa Cathedral. Giorgio Vasari, a 16th-century biographer of artists, reports that the so-called Leaning Tower of Pisa was begun by Bonanno Pisano, and he is buried there, but modern research indicates the plan of the tower may have been by Gherardo di Gherardo.

    • Currency of the information: Keep in mind that the descriptive note may not be updated for some time, so do not use it to record extremely volatile situations that may change in a few months or years. Instead, situations recorded here should be relatively long-standing.



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.

  • People, events, art works
    Do not express biased views about artistic styles or works, 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.

    • For example, do not state "He was very popular but his work became repetitive…"; instead state, if true, "Despite poor health, his work remained consistent and was esteemed during his lifetime." Do not state "She was a minor painter specializing in portraits"; instead state "She specialized in portraits." Do not state "Noted for the famous and magnificent paintings of dancers"; instead state "He is best known for paintings of dancers." Do not say "He is known for his highly decorative yet rather unsophisticated compositions…," instead say "Neri is known for his highly decorative compositions…" Do not say "He was one of the most important artists of his generation …", instead say "He was noted as one of the most important artists of his generation …"

    • In general, avoid including a long list of the names of specific works of art or architecture in the note. You may mention a few specific works as necessary to make a point.



  • Political situations
    Do not take sides in a political controversy or other controversial matters. If a political situation is relevant to the person, remain perfectly neutral.

      • Examples
        [for Tina Modotti]
      • Note: Modotti was born in Italy and moved to Mexico City in 1923 with Edward Weston, who taught her photography. She joined the Communist party in 1927, and thereafter her photographs focused on social and political issues in Mexico until she was deported in 1929.



  • 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 terms for that may be considered offensive by groups of people.

  • Other situations
    Do not mention scandals, lifestyle, or sexual orientation unless it is important to the artistic career of the person or corporate body. If a controversial matter is important and relevant to their artistic career, search the ULAN database for persons or corporate bodies that may have had a situation similar to the one you wish to describe, and use the descriptive notes in these records as examples.



Uncertainty and ambiguity
Explain any controversies or issues regarding the identification of the artist (e.g., regarding the names), his or her oeuvre, 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.

    • 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 Names, Roles, Birth and Death Dates, loci of activity or other Events, Associative Relationships, etc.).

  • Explain information indexed elsewhere
    Within the parameters stated above, explain uncertainty, ambiguity, or complexities surrounding information that is linked or indexed in controlled fields. In the example below, the uncertainty implied in the birth date "ca. 1510" is explained.

      • Example
        [for Mathys Cock]
      • Note: Cock was famed as a landscape painter and draughtsman, known as one of the first artists who was able to create a landscape drawing in convincing perspective. His birthdate is uncertain, but he is recorded as accepting pupils in 1540. He may have already travelled to Italy by then, perhaps staying with his brother, Hieronymus Cock, who was mentioned as living in Rome in 1545 and 1548.



  • Display Date notes
    In addition to the Descriptive Note, you may also use the Display Date for Names, Roles, Associative relationships, and - for corporate bodies - hierarchical 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. In the example below, the name is explained in the Descriptive note, but would also be mentioned in the Display Date for Name.

      • Example
        [for Le Corbusier]
      • Note: Born as Charles-Edouard Jeanneret, he adopted the pseudonym "Le Corbusier" in 1920, to be used when he was active as an architect and theorist; he used the pseudonym for his paintings from ca. 1930. He emigrated to France in 1917 and was naturalized in 1930. Born into a family of horologists and enamelers, he studied at $00Ecole d'Art in Chaux-de-Fonds, but was largely self-taught in painting and architecture through study trips. In the 1920s he emerged as the most important architect of the "International Style" in France. He established the Fondation Le Corbusier in Paris to care for and make available to scholars his library, architectural drawings, sketches, and paintings.

        Name: Le Corbusier (preferred)
        Display Date: pseudonym adopted in 1920
        Start Date: 1920 End Date: 9999




When to include a descriptive note

  • Important artists and firms
    It is recommended to record descriptive notes for famous artists and corporate bodies, and for artists or corporate bodies with records contributed by several different contributors. For other persons and corporate bodies, it is optional.

      • Examples
        [for Louis H. Sullivan]
      • Note: American architect, writer and draftsman; he was the leading force of progressive architecture in Chicago at it's most formative period in the 1890s. He is known for his tall office buildings, skyscrapers, and department stores, often executed with his partner Dankmar Adler. While Sullivan embraced the new concept of industrialized architecture and steel frame construction, he covered his buildings with delicate ornament, often with organic or plant motifs.

        [for Katsushika Hokusai]
      • Note: He is famous for works of ukiyo-e ('pictures of the floating world') in painting and printmaking. He had a long career of over 70 years in diverse media and styles. He studied painting of Ming period (1368-1644) in China to the styles of the Kan$01o school, Sumiyoshi school, Rinpa painting, and his contemporaries of the Edo period (1600-1868) in Japan; he also learned from Western-style painting. Object types and media included nikuhitsuga (polychrome or ink paintings); surimono ('printed things'; small-edition woodblock prints) and nishikie (polychrome prints); woodblocks for eirihon (illustrated books) and ky$01oka ehon (illustrated books of poems called ky$01oka); and printed book illustrations for kiby$01oshi ('yellow cover' books, often moralizing tales and adventures) and yomihon ('reading books,' sometimes historical novels). He was one of the main shunga (erotic picture) artists of the Edo period. Hokusai is thought to have made in all at least 30,000 drawings and the illustrations for 500 books. Since the late 19th century, his work has had a significant impact on Western artists, including Gauguin and van Gogh.

  • Uncertain identification of the artist
    If the identity of the artist is in question, describe the issue. (If the attribution is uncertain, the two artists would be linked with an associative relationship; both names would NOT be in a single record. If scholarship generally agrees that both names refer to the same artists, both names should be in the same record.)

      • Example
        [for Robert Campin and the Master of Flémalle]
      • Note: Campin was a successful and very influential painter. He is first mentioned in 1405-1406 as a painter in Tournai; given that he purchased citizenship there in 1410, he may have been born elsewhere. There is evidence of some connection with Valenciennes, where the name Campin is said to have been common. Nothing certain is known of his artistic training and background. Campin was clearly popular, receiving commissions from the municipality of Tournai, churches, and citizens. He owned various properties and had surplus capital. Campin ran a workshop, employed assistants and took apprentices; he produced panels, murals, he painted sculptures, and produced banners and other ephemera. He is today generally accepted as the artist whose oeuvre was formerly attributed to the anonymous Master of Fl$00emalle.

  • Other uncertain information
    If dates, roles, locations, or other indexed information is uncertain, you may explain it in the Descriptive Note.

      • Example
        [for Pieter Claesz, his birth place is uncertain]
      • Note: It was long believed that he was born in Germany, although archival evidence may suggest that he was probably born in Berchem, near Antwerp. In any case, he spent his entire career in Haarlem. He seems not to have used the surname "Berchem" that was adopted by his son, the landscape painter Nicolaes Berchem. He was an important exponent of the 'ontbijt' or breakfast piece. Known for his subdued, monochromatic palette and his subtle use of light and texture. His later work became more colorful and decorative.

  • Homographs
    If another artist has the same name, it is generally not necessary to mention this in the note because typically the dates and nationality, or an addition of "Jr." or "Sr." to the preferred name, will distinguish them. However, if there is the potential for end-user confusion (e.g., if you know there has been confusion in the past or if the literature has historically confused the two people), explain how the two people are distinct.

      • Example
        [for Pieter van der Hulst]
      • Note: Apparently not directly related to the family of earlier Dutch and Flemish artists of the same name.

        [for Pere Mates, who died in 1558]
      • Note: Do not confuse with another Spanish painter of the same name who died in 1530.

  • Names of corporate bodies
    If the name of a corporate body has changed significantly over time, explain this. (Caveat: It is possible that these names represent two separate corporate bodies and should not be in the same record; if they are separate records, link them through associative relationships. See 3.6 Associative Relationships and 3.3 Names: Former names: For corporate bodies.)

      • Example
      • Note: The firm was called "James Stewart Polshek and Associates" from its founding in 1962 until 1980, when the name was changed to "James Stewart Polshek and Partners."


The note should be brief and concise. The descriptive note is intended to 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 1500 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 4000 characters, it is contrary to editorial policy to write long, compendious notes. If you feel you must write a note significantly longer than 1500 characters, consult with your supervisor.


Note that some Descriptive Notes in ULAN do not follow the currently approved style because they were acquired from contributors who had a different style.

  • If you are editing a ULAN record with such a note, and if time and editorial priorities allow, edit the note to comply with the current stylistic guidelines.
  • Complete sentences
    The note need not be written in complete sentences, although complete sentences are recommended when necessary to unambiguously convey meaning.

    • Follow all other grammatical rules for standard English composition. For notes in other languages, follow standard grammar rules for composition in that language.

      • Example
      • Note: Riza, son of 'Ali Asghar, was a leading artist under the Safavid shah Abbas I (reigned 1588-1629). He is noted primarily for having created portraits and genre scenes. The various names for this artist and the attributions of paintings in his oeuvre are somewhat uncertain, since his signatures and contemporary documentary references to him are ambiguous. Most scholars agree that the artist, Aqa Riza, who is named by Safavid chroniclers, is the same person as Riza in the court of Abbas (thus, "Abassi"), and that the artist's style changed significantly at mid-life. Others believe that two different artists with similar names are responsible for the oeuvre generally attributed to Riza. His early paintings display a fine, almost calligraphic linear style with mainly primary colors; the palette of his later works is darker and earthier, and the lines are coarser and heavier. He was probably born in Kashan and he probably died in Esfahan.

  • Capitalization and Punctuation
    Write the note in mixed case (not all upper or all lower case). Use Unicode. Legacy data and characters outside Unicode (e.g., eszett as distinct from double-s) are represented with codes in Appendix A.

    • 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, each sentence should begin with a capital letter and end with a period. The semi-colon should be used to separate phrases.

      • Examples
        [for Roger Ango]
      • Note: Roger Ango succeeded his father Richard Ango as "maître des oeuvres" of Rouen possibly ca. 1475. Roger Ango was possibly responsible for the plan of 1493 of the Palais de Justice of Rouen. He built the courthouse beginning in 1508; the construction of the central block was finished in 1526 by Roulland Le Roux.

        [for Ogata Korin]
      • Note: Noted as one of the most important Japanese artists of the 17th century; known for paintings of irises and other subjects. He was regarded, along with Sotatsu, as one of the masters of the Sotatsu-Koetsu school of decorative painting, including painted screens and textile designs. He was descended from a samurai who had served under the Ashikaga rulers.

  • Cardinal directions: In general, do not capitalize cardinal directions or directional adjectives (e.g., born on a farm west of Houston, in southern India, in the southwestern United States). When used as a proper name, capitalize the directional word, as in in South India or the American Southwest.

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

  • Quotation marks: If you use quotation marks (e.g., for a title or foreign-language word), place periods and commas that punctuate the paragraph inside quotation marks. Place semi-colons and colons outside the quotation marks.

  • Parentheses: Use parentheses sparingly. They 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 (commas usually suffice to set apart a statement).

  • Dashes. Do not use dashes to set apart a phrase. Instead use commas or rephrase.
  • 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 contained in a proper name correctly spelled with an ampersand.

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

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

  • 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.

    • 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. 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. VCS cannot accept 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 (e.g., 15th century, in the early 20th century, in the 15th and 16th centuries).

    • 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, and maybe 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...).

    • Avoid superscript and other special characters: VCS cannot accept special characters. Never 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, 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.

      • Example
        [for Francis Frith]
      • Note: Frith opened a studio "Frith & Hayward" in Liverpool in 1850. In 1856, Frith embarked on his first of three commercial expeditions to photograph Egypt, the Nile, Pyramids, the Spinx of Gizeh, Karnak, Luxor and Thebes. The second expedition was to Egypt, Syria, Palestine from 1857 to 1858, and in 1859, Frith embarked upon the third expedition, travelling 1,500 miles up the Nile photographing monuments…

    • 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).

    • Omit the space between the number and the metric code if the measurement is used as an adjective (e.g., "…was 35 mm long" but "she worked mainly 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.

  • 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 types of proper names.

      • Example
        [for Quaglia family]
      • Note: The Quaglio family originally came from Laino, a small village in Valle d'Intelvi near Como. The family's activity in Italy and Germany extended over eight generations. A number of the prominent members of the family were theater set designers and architects to the courts of Vienna, Mannheim, and Munich.

    • Capitalization: Special cases

      • Prefer Bible and Biblical capitalized. (Webster's and Random House dictionaries prefer it 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 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.

      • Example
        [for Brassaï]
      • Note: Brass$04ai is best known for his images of the Paris at night in the 1930s and 1940s. During this time, he captured images of deserted streets, prostitutes, lovers, sailors, and cafe night life, using extreme lighting conditions. The result was the book "Paris de Nuit," published in 1933. With his contributions to the Surrealist magazine "Minotaure," he became friends with Picasso, Alberto Giacometti, and Jacque Lipchitz. In 1937, Brass$04ai began working for "Harper's Bazaar" magazine, forming a close partnership with its editor, Carmel Snow. In 1962, after the death of Snow, he stopped photography altogether and concentrated on making new prints of his photographs and publishing new editions of his earlier books.

  • 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., Was an official in a medieval commune that had gained its independence from …).

      • If the trailing clause can stand alone and the initial clause can stand alone, then use which (e.g., He was a designer for the Gobelins manufactory, which itself was … or He was a member of the Secession, for which the members …). 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 Webster's 3d International Dictionary as a guide.

      • 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 (artist) 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: B$00en$00ezit, Dictionnaire des Peintres (1976)
        Full Citation: B$00en$00ezit, Emmanuel, ed. Dictionnaire critique et documentaire des Peintres, Sculpteurs, Dessinateurs et Graveurs. Originally published 1911-1923. Paris: Librairie Gr$04und, 1976.
        Page: 2:311

      • 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: "Laurens, Jean-Paul," accessed 5 August 2002

  • In general, the descriptive note must have a source. An exception, requiring no source, is when the note serves only 1) to explain biographical information, names, or a distinction between two artists with similar names, and 2) you have not used a published source for this explanation.

  • If there are multiple editions or multiple publication dates for a source, link to the specific source that you are using.

  • Encyclopedia article author: Whereas you need not list the author and article name for an encyclopedia article if it is a source for only a name, if an article is a source for the Descriptive Note, cite the author and article name in the page field 1) if you have used a significant amount of information from the article, or 2) if the information is controversial, and 3) if the article has an author credit (generally at the end of the article).

      • 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 2005

      • 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:

    • Web sites of major museums, special collections, or other repositories.
    • Grove Art Online. Oxford University Press, 2003-. (1 March 2003)
    • Catalogues raisonnes.
    • Thieme, Ulrich and Felix Becker, eds. Allgemeines Lexikon der bildenden Künstler von der Antike bis zur Gegenwart. Reprint of 1907 edition. 37 vols. Leipzig: Veb E.A. Seemann Verlag, 1980-1986.
    • Bénézit, Emmanuel, editor. Dictionnaire critique et documentaire des Peintres, Sculpteurs, Dessinateurs et Graveurs. Originally published 1911-1923. Paris: Librairie Gründ, 1976.
    • Macmillan Encyclopedia of Architects. Adolf K. Placzek, ed. New York: Free Press; London: Collier Macmillan, 1982.
    • Journal articles from authoritative art history journals.
    • Textbooks or authoritative dictionaries, such as Oxford Companion to Art. Harold Osborne, ed. Melbourne; Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1996.


Translating the Descriptive 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 topics covered in the section of the ULAN being translated, typically art history, or another pertinent specialty.

  • 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, 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.



  • It is required to have at least one contributor for each 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. Most descriptive notes in ULAN are written in English, however scope notes in other languages may be included.



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

  • 2. Language Code: Unique code for the language in VCS. Related languages have codes within a given range, to allow retrieval of related languages.


Controlled by the Languages file.



  • It is required to flag the language of the descriptive note. Descriptive note is optional, but if there is any descriptive note, one must be in English.
  • 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.” Scope notes in English should be flagged with language = English.

Last updated 5 October 2017
Document is subject to frequent revisions


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