Nose-First. Towards an Olfactory Gaze for Digital Art History

Sofia Collette Ehrich, Caro Verbeek, Mathias Zinnen, Lizzie Marx, Cecilia Bembibre, Inger Leemans

Research output: Chapter in Book / Report / Conference proceedingConference contributionAcademicpeer-review


What are the historical smells and olfactory narratives of Europe? How can we make use of digital museum collections to trace information on olfactory heritage? In recent years, European cultural heritage institutions have invested heavily in large-scale digitization, which provides us with a wealth of object, text and image data that can be browsed and analysed by humans and machines. However, as heritage institutes, as well as humanities and computer science scholars, have had a long-standing tradition of ocular-centric thinking, it is difficult to find relevant information about smell in digital collections. The historical gaze, for a long time, has been visually biased, leaving smell overlooked within many digital collections. This paper offers a roadmap towards an olfactory gaze for digital cultural heritage collections. The work we present here is part of the Odeuropa project, an action of the Horizon 2020 programme, which promotes research and innovation. It presents a work in progress on olfactory heritage and sensory mining in digital art collections. First, we will describe the current state of the art, showing how olfactory information is traditionally missing or even omitted from digital art collection management systems. We present a baseline research, which maps the gaps and biases in art thesauruses and iconographic classification systems. Next, we will present two connected solutions that we are currently developing in the Odeuropa project: a) a database with olfactory information related to historical artworks, aimed to enrich existing metadata and improve search solutions b) computer vision methodologies for sensory mining. Finally, we pitch a new idea: a nose-first scent wheel. When integrated into current digital collection interfaces, the scent wheel would encourage audiences to develop an olfactory gaze and offer new ways to uncover the rich storylines of olfactory heritage within digital collections.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publication021 Workshops and Tutorials - Language Data and Knowledge, LDK 2021
Number of pages17
Publication statusPublished - Sep 2021
Event2021 Workshops and Tutorials - Language Data and Knowledge, LDK 2021 - Zaragoza, Spain
Duration: 1 Sep 20214 Sep 2021

Publication series

NameCEUR Workshop Proceedings
PublisherCEUR Workshop Proceedings
ISSN (Print)1613-0073


Conference2021 Workshops and Tutorials - Language Data and Knowledge, LDK 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Funding This project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No 101004469.

Publisher Copyright:
© Sofia Ehrich, Cecilia Bembibre, Inger Leemans, Lizzie Marx, Caro Verbeek and Mathias Zinnen


  • Computer vision
  • Digital heritage
  • Digital humanities
  • Object detection
  • Olfactory gaze
  • Olfactory heritage


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