UKOLN AHDS Using SVG in the Artworld Project

About The Artworld Project

Artworld logo Artworld [1] is a consortium project funded by JISC under the 5/99 funding round. The consortium consists of The Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts (SCVA) at The University of East Anglia (UEA) and the Oriental Museum at the University of Durham.

The main deliverable for the project is its Web site which will include a combined catalogue of parts of the two collections and a set of teaching resources.

Object images are being captured using digital photography at both sites and some scanning at SCVA. Object data is being researched at both sites independently and is input to concurrent Microsoft Access databases. Image data is captured programmatically from within the Access database. Object and image data are exported from the two independent databases and checked and imported into a Postgres database for use within the catalogue on the Web site.

There are four teaching resources either in development or under discussion. These are African Art and Aesthetics, Egyptian Art and Museology, An Introduction to Chinese art and Japanese Art. These resources are being developed by the department of World Art Studies and Museology at UEA, The department of Archaeology, Durham and East Asian Studies, University of Durham respectively. The Japanese module is currently under negotiation. These resources are stored as simple XML files ready for publication to the Web.

The target audience in the first instance are undergraduate art history, anthropology and archaeology students. However, we have tried to ensure that the underlying material is structured in such a way that re-use at a variety of levels, 16 plus to post graduate is a real possibility. We hope to implement this during the final year of the project by ensuring conformance with IMS specifications.

How Use Of SVG Came About

In the early days of the project we were trying very hard to find an IT solution that would not only fulfill the various JISC requirements but would be relatively inexpensive. After a considerable amount time researching various possibilities we selected Apache's Cocoon system as our Web publishing engine. To help us implement this we contracted a local internet applications provider Luminas [2].

The Cocoon publishing framework gives us an inexpensive solution in that the software is free so we can focus our resources on development.

One area that we had inadvertently missed during early planning was how we represent copyright for the images whilst providing some level of protection. We considered using watermarking however this would have entailed re-processing a considerable number of images at a time when we had little resource to spare.

This issue came up in conversation with Andrew Savory of Luminas as early notification that all of the images already transferred to the server and in use through Cocoon would need to be replaced. As we talked about the issues Andrew presented a possible solution, why not insert copyright notices into the images "on the fly". This would be done using a technology called SVG (Scalable Vector Graphics). What SVG could do for us is to respond to a user request for an image by combining the image with the copyright statement referenced from the database and present the user with this new combined image and copyright statement.

We of course asked Luminas to proceed with this solution. The only potential stumbling block was how we represent copyright from the two institutions in a unified system. The database was based on the VADS/VRA data schema so we were already indicating the originating institution in the database. It was then a relatively simple task to include a new field containing the relevant copyright statements.

It should be noted that a composite JPEG (or PNG, GIF or PDF) image is sent to the end user - there is no requirement for the end user's browser to support the PNG format. The model for this is illustrated in Figure 1.

Process For Creating Dynamic Images
Figure 1: Process For Creating Dynamic Images

Lessons Learnt

Although in this case we ended up with an excellent solution there are a number of lessons that can be derived from the sequence of events. Firstly the benefits of detailed workflow planning in the digitisation process cannot be understated. If a reasonable solution (such as water marking) had been planed into the processes from the start then a number of additional costs would not have been incurred. These costs include project staff time in discussing solutions to the problem, consultancy costs to implement a new solution. However, there are positive aspects of these events that should be noted. Ensuring that the project has a contingency fund ensures that unexpected additional costs can be met. Close relations with contractors with free flow of information can ensure that potential solutions can be found. Following a standard data schema for database construction can help to ensure important data isn't missed. In this case it expedited the solution.

About Cocoon and SVG

Cocoon [3] is an XML Publishing Framework that allows the possibility of including logic in XML files. It is provided through the Apache software foundation.

SVG (Scalable Vector Graphics) [4] [5] is non proprietary language for describing two dimensional graphics in XML. It allows for three types of objects: vector graphic shapes; images and text. Features and functions include: grouping, styling, combining, transformations, nested transformations, clipping paths, templates, filter effects and alpha masks.


  1. Artworld, University of East Anglia
  2. Luminas,
  3. Apache Cocoon, Apache,
  4. Introduction to SVG,,
  5. SVG Specification, W3C,

Contact Details

Paul Child
ARTWORLD Project Manager
Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts
University of East Anglia
Norwich NR4 7TJ

Tel: 01603 456 161
Fax: 01603 259 401
Email: p.child AT

QA Focus Comments

Citation Details

Using SVG in the Artworld Project, Child, P., QA Focus case study 07, UKOLN,

The document was published in January 2003.