Cultural Heritage

A UKOLN Blog for the Cultural Heritage sector (now archived)

Searching by Colour at the Hermitage

Posted by Brian Kelly on February 7th, 2011

How useful is this approach to finding a book or a piece of art work? It’s not uncommon for people to remember that a book had a red cover or that the woman in the painting wore a blue dress but library catalogues and museum databases haven’t traditionally indexed items in this way.

One museum that is doing this is the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg with IBM’s experimental Query By Image Content (QBIC) search technology. You can search by colour – set the colour and the amount of that colour in the painting and click search. I tried specifying yellow as the main colour and got back a variety of portraits with yellow backgrounds. You can also do a Layout Search where you not only specify the colour (I chose pink this time) but also the area of the image in which it occurs and then click search. My three pink ovals, which I thought might bring up some paintings of flowers brought up a variety of pictures with pink in them but no flower paintings.

This reminded me of a presentation at the CILIP Cataloguing and Indexing Group 2006 Conference in Exeter.  ‘Image, shape and multimedia resource discovery‘ by Stefan Ruger was a fascinating exploration of non-verbal ways of searching. The PDF of his slides is available at

If your institution has been experimenting along these lines, either add a comment or why not email me ( about writing a guest post on your experiences for this blog.

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