17 February 2016
The presentation of the revolutionary Replica 360 r/v scanner by Adam Lowe (Factum Arte) launches the REPLICA project, jointly run by the Fondazione Giorgio Cini and the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne
On 1 March 2016 the digitisation of 1 million photographs in the Institute of Art History Photo Library will get underway. The international research project called REPLICA will also furnish a new visual search engine for the study and promotion of the Venetian cultural heritage.
The Replica 360 r/v circular scanner has been presented at the Fondazione Giorgio Cini on the Island of San Giorgio Maggiore in Venice. This revolutionary prototype was created by Factum Arte, Madrid, in collaboration with the laboratory of the Digital Humanities Laboratory (DHLAB) of the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL), as part of the REPLICA international project. What is currently the fastest scanner in the world was specifically designed for the digitisation of large historical documentary archives. From 1 March 2016, work will begin on recording the materials in the Institute of Art History Photo Library in the Fondazione Cini, one of the most important international documentary resources, consisting of around 1 million photographs.
The Replica 360 r/v circular scanner
The Replica 360 r/v has the appearance of a rotating circular table 2 m in diameter. Driven by an engine at a controlled speed, it is equipped with a column of digital cameras, a computer and software designed to handle in real time the downloading and archiving of images. The scanner can record both sides of documents in only four seconds with a resolution of 5424 x 3616 pixels. This revolutionary prototype has been produced by Factum Arte, Madrid, directed by Adam Lowe. In 2007 the same studio made the facsimile of Paolo Veronese’s Wedding at Cana for Palladio’s Refectory on San Giorgio. From 1 March 2016 work will begin on digitising the Institute of Art History Photo Library, the most important iconographic resource devoted to Venetian art history and architecture in the world. The collection consists of around 1 million photographs and the Replica 360 r/v will scan and record them by the end of September 2018.
The Replica 360 r/v is something of a revolution in the sector of archive digitisation because it makes data acquisition operations much quicker, although they still require human intervention. Two operators – in this case volunteers from the Italian National Civic Service – work together on scanning: one positions documents on the scanner and the other removes them. The procedures are speeded up because the Replica 360 r/v can scan photos without needing to take them out of their protective film, thus also making the operation safer in terms of protecting documents. A system of sensors detects when a document is placed on the glass panel and calculates its position. Two cameras with lighting units specially designed for instant capture record the images. A network of computers then executes the automatic download, combining the retro and verso of every document and inserting all the images in a specific archive. All this takes place in real time and the recorded images are processed using specific algorithms devised by the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne to enhance the automatic archiving of the data flow.
The REPLICA project
The Replica 360 r/v circular scanner is part of REPLICA, a three-year international research project and the result of collaboration between the Digital Humanities Lab of the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne and the Fondazione Giorgio Cini. The project aims to create a search engine with iconographic keys dedicated to pictorial and architectural artefacts. The project will this also be a model for large public and private institutions wishing to save, promote and develop their documentary collections. Designed by the EPFL Digital Humanities Laboratory, coordinated by Isabella di Lenardo, with computer scientist Benoit Seguin, REPLICA is a pioneering tool for its use of algorithms allowing visual similarities in different artistic compositions to be detected.
The starting point for the creation of the research engine is the acquisition in a digital format of the Fondazione Cini Photo Library, the largest iconographic resource on Venetian art history and architecture in the world. Processed with new algorithms based on convolutional neural network (CNN) technology, the images are fed into a search engine enabling visual similarities in different images to be associated. Accessible through a free web portal, the search engine will enable users to browse thousands of photos to discover possible links between images, study genealogical affinities between art works or simply appreciate the images in a radically new way.
The free online access from 2016 should also encourage the study of some lesser-known or completely unknown art works, only previously documented thanks to the long, meticulous work of art historians such as Raymond Van Marle, Giuseppe Fiocco, Sergio Bettini and Rodolfo Pallucchini, or important 20th-century photographers, such as Nicolò Cipriani. Their photographic archives have entered the Fondazione Cini over the years, and now thanks to the innovative contribution of REPLICA they will undoubtedly be the focus for new research interests.
REPLICA is a project in partnership with the Venice Time Machine, a programme run by the EPFL, in collaboration with Ca’ Foscari University and the Venice State Archives, and supported by the Fondazione Lombard Odier.
The Fondazione Giorgio Cini is a non-profit cultural institution based in Venice, Italy. It was constituted in 1951 by Vittorio Cini, in memory of his son Giorgio, with the aim of restoring the Island of San Giorgio Maggiore (devastated after 150 years of military occupation) and creating an international cultural centre. The importance of these private initiatives is reflected in the size of the site to be redeveloped on the island and the many events organised or hosted by the Foundation.
The Fondazione Giorgio Cini supports its own research projects but also stages events organised by internationally renowned cultural and scientific institutions.
The Digital Humanities Laboratory (DHLAB), founded in 2012 by Professor Frédéric Kaplan, develops new computational approaches for rediscovering the past and anticipating the future. Projects conducted at the lab range from reconstructions of ancient cities to studying how algorithms transform the way we write. The Venice Time Machine, the DHLAB's flagship project conducted in partnership with Ca' Foscari University, Venice, aims to digitise 1,000 years of historic records and make them searchable. The DHLAB is also training a new generation of young researchers – "digital humanists" – and develops innovative educational programmes and didactic technologies to progress towards this goal.
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