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Az Infinitum - Azulejo Indexation and Reference System
 
Within Portuguese History of Art, the field of tilework has become a discrete area of study, though it maintains its close interaction with painting, architecture, sculpture, etc. In fact, those involved in tile making – painters, layers, authors, etc. – dominated many artistic techniques, bringing their knowledge to the field of tilework, hence influencing the manner in which tiles were painted and conceived. 

Researching Portuguese tilework demands not only the recognition of its specificity, but also its integration within the field of History of Art and in other fields of knowledge, within a multidisciplinary approach. It also demands the expansion of the field to an international context, given that the Portuguese tile belongs to a visual matrix present beyond European borders, with its long practice of painting inspired in models that circulated through engravings but also in tapestries, textile, illuminations, goldsmithery, etc. 

To study five centuries of ceramic applications in Portugal, a good part of which are found in situ (a fundamental aspect of this art, specifically conceived for the area where it is applied) it is essential for the researcher to benefit from adequate tools. The second half of the twentieth century saw the publication of in situ tilework inventories - while reference works of great importance, they are naturally out-dated. However, digital inventories present great advantages as information management tools. 

 The João Miguel dos Santos Simões Thematic Tilework and Ceramics Network, a research unit at the History of Art Institute (University of Lisbon), and the National Tile Museum, have developed its work in the area of inventory, in order to present the scientific community with an online system of information on Portuguese tilework that results from the articulation of several databases. 

This tool enables the organisation of information, making it accessible to researchers as well as to the general audience, therefore contributing not only to advanced study and research, but also to the dissemination of this type of heritage and, as a consequence, to its preservation. The availability of these digital databases enables a greater number of people to access information, and the resulting cross-referencing of data, with Portuguese tilework so permeable to international influences. And this can become a path of great importance for intercultural dialogue. 

The specificity of this type of heritage led to a debate, begun in early 2009, between the researchers of the Thematic Network, of the National Tile Museum, and other specialists in the field, in order to define the goals and procedures of the inventory. A pre-existing tool of database management - InPatrimonium, developed by the company Sistema do Futuro was chosen. Sufficiently flexible to answer wide-reaching needs, the system was tailored to this field, with a new module to examine the theme of patterned tiles, with very specific characteristics. 

Titled “Az Infinitum - Azulejo Indexation and Reference System”, the system is accessible online through five great areas: (1) in situ; (2) iconography; (3) patterns; (4) authors, (5) bibliography, with special attention paid to controlled vocabulary and to the use, as often as possible, of international lists. 

The in situ area concerns ceramic wall coverings that remain in its original location and that contribute the main goal of this present project. The organisation of the inventory corresponds to the hierarchical organisation of spaces covered with ceramics, organised under a tree matrix, from the general to the particular. Iconography identifies and catalogues the represented themes, using the free Iconclass classification system (www.iconclass.org). Patterns allows us to catalogue patterns and border tiles, to cross reference them and identify the locations where they are found. Authors presents a dictionary of all those involved in the making of ceramic wall coverings, including authors, potters, layers, painters, or factories. Bibliography presents a reference list of interest for the field of tilework, produced or applied in Portugal. 

Finally, it is important to bear in mind that the whole system rests on an image bank, in which photography plays a double role of great importance. In addition to providing a documental record, it allows for, in a second phase, the conception of simulations of the setting up of a pattern and of its application on wider areas through the digital manipulation of the photography. 

Hence, the systematisation of knowledge that is proposed with this described system will, in a near future, enable a renewed perspective on the history of tiles in Portugal.

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