Digital Thematic Research Collection of the Iconography of Venus from the Middle Ages to Modern Times

A project contributing to the quantitative approach in art history " old kind of scholarship – building lists and works of reference." (Charlotte Roueché in The Times Literary Supplement, n° 5650 p.32 July 15, 2011)

Digital Thematic Research Collection of the Iconography of Venus from the Middle Ages to Modern Times


The information about artworks depicting Aphrodite / Venus is scattered among a multitude of monographs and ‘catalogues raisonnés’ of artists, museum catalogues, exhibition catalogues, sales catalogues from the 17th century onwards, death inventories, myriads of bibliographical references and the Internet. One can find a limited number of 'Aphrodite / Venus'-artworks in general thematic catalogues such as:

  • Pigler's 'Barockthemen - Ein Auswahl von Verzeichnissen zur Ikonographie des 17. und 18. Jahrhunderts'  (1974)
  • Rochelle's 'Mythological and Classical World Art Index' (1991)
  • The Oxford Guide to Classical Mythology in the Arts, 1300-1990s by Reid (1993).

Neither Pigler, Rochelle or Reid give full information about the artworks and, unfortunately, none are available in digital format and any type of numerical or statistical analysis is then a bungling task.

Aim of the project

The promise of a Digital Thematic Research collection is manifold and adhere to the arguments described by H. Kohle: ‘Art History and the Digital Humanities. Invitation to a Debate’ and M. Marmor: ‘Invited response to Hubertus Kohle’ (Zeitschrift fuer Kunstgeschichte 79/2 2016: 151–154 and 155-158).

The primary goal of the project is the creation of a homogeneous dataset in order to apply quantitative methods and statistical techniques and, through time-frequency analysis, to confirm known art historical associations with quantitative data or to discover new correlations. Supplementary goals are:

  • The introduction of the concept of ‘distant viewing’ with analogy to the ‘distant reading’ and macro analysis approach in literary history where the canon-artists and their masterpieces disappear into the larger art historical system.
  • The link to the cybernetic approach of sociology and natural sciences with concepts of ‘replication’, 'connectionism' (networks of artists and their patrons) and 'memetics' (i.e. the fitness or power of the image).
  • The exploration of the importance of the sampling technique and sample size of data in a population of an indefinite number of artworks of an unknown number of artists. In art history a sample of artworks is always ‘biased’ since the information sources are limited or not readily available. This ‘bias’ should be countered by increasing the size of the samples, which should include as much as possible lost artworks.

Methodology of the project

Topical catalogues of artworks (sculptures, reliefs, paintings, frescoes, drawings, prints and illustrations where Aphrodite / Venus is depicted) are compiled with a methodology consistently applied to all catalogues. The following list is a summary of the rules:

1) categorization into 18 main topics and many subtopics in accordance with her well-established characteristics and attributes and her classical companions; within a topic/subtopic a chronological ordering is applied;

2) catalogues organized according to the country of birth or training of the identified artists; all entries have a catalogue number; all artworks have a database identifier;

3) artworks with the name Aphrodite /Venus in the title given by the creator or used by the owner - or artworks of a theme (Judgment of Paris, Psyche, … or places of worship) where she is depicted;

4) artworks of identified artists (autographed, attributed, workshop or circle); artworks identified as ‘school … manner … follower of…’ or ‘Anonymous after…’ do NOT get a catalogue number, but may be mentioned and have a database identifier;

5) the compilation is neutral and alternative attributions are given with reference to scholarly studies.


At present six Topical Catalogues have been published:

  • Volume 1.1 The Italian Venus (2007): 1840 works of 649 Italian artists;
  • Volume 2.1 The French Venus (2008): 2997 works of 997 French artists;
  • Volume 3.1 The Venus of the Low Countries (2010): 2636 works of 728 artists of the Low Countries;
  • Volume 4.1 The German, Swiss and Central-European Venus (2012): 3198 works of 1506 artist of Germany, Switzerland and Central-Europe;
  • Volume 5.1 The British and Irish Venus (2013): 2113 works of 912 artists from Britain and Ireland;
  • Volume 6.1 The Venus of the Eastern, Southern and Northern European Regions (2014): 1371 works of 629 artists of  the Eastern, Southern and Northern European Regions.

In total: 14155 works from 5421 artists over a period of more than 500 years.

All catalogues have been published as fully searchable pdf's and can be downloaded from They are also available as paperback book or as hardcover book.

See further details on the webpage ‘Topical Catalogues’ of website ‘ Venus Iconography’.

A remarkable finding is the applicability of Lotka's law of scientific productivity to the data compiled in these six catalogues. See peer-reviewed paper: 'Distant Viewing in Art History. A Case Study of Artistic Productivity' by K. Bender, International Journal for Digital Art History online (DAH-Journal), Issue n° 1, June 2015: 100-110.

Specific results of statistical and network analyses of the data extracted from the catalogues  have been published in a series of 70 posts on Blog ‘Iconography in Art History’ since June 12, 2011.  Of special interest are the following series of posts:

  • 'Statistics in Art History' (7 posts from February 5, 2013 to May 9, 2014);
  • 'Déjà-vu': repetitions of famous Italian artworks by later artists, with an interactive timeline visualization and geo-maps (4 posts from July 16, 2014 to September 29, 2014);
  • From Spreadsheet to Network Analysis of Art Historical Data' using a dataset of selected Italian artists, called CREATORS, and their IMITATORS of all countries (4 posts from October 23, 2015 to January 20, 2016). A work-in-progress with a Google sheet accessible to potential collaborators.
  • 'Distant Viewing'  - a condition of knowledge, with attention to the sister arts (8 posts from June 30, 2016 to May 31, 2017).

Ongoing activity

Compilation of Volume 1.2 The Italian Venus revisited, a revision of Volume 1.1, is now priority of the project. Its publication is scheduled for 2018, with more than 6,000 artworks and ca 1,200 artists. A large part of the revision consists of notes describing copies, repetitions or imitations and engravings of original creations, also by non-Italian artists.

Possibilities of web-online publication, including images of the artworks, will be considered  once the compilation of Volume 1.2 and publication as pdf and paperback are finalized.

The exploration of the many facets of the quantitative approach in art history will continue with the data compiled in the overall project.

Consolidation and a permanent repository of the project database should be envisaged.

beteiligte Personen



Digital Humanities


Neue Burg, Ikonographie, Distant Viewing, Digital Art History, Aphrodite/Venus, Digitale Kunstgeschichte, Quantitative Methoden, Kybernetik