About the Project

by Barry Pearce, Founder, BSIP.

The Bowed Strings Iconography Project (BSIP) is a non-profit non-commercial research project that aims to collate and catalogue as many iconographic and archaeological sources of bowed string instruments, bows, their parts and accessories as possible throughout all periods of history through to the present day.

The project provides two high quality databases; one containing sources of bowed string instrument iconography and associated images, the other containing archaeological sources. The databases are curated, in a similar manner to museums and galleries. Curators are experts in the field of bowed string instruments, ensuring that the databases provide consistent and quality data and information. Intended as an academic quality research tool, data sources are referenced as much as possible and hyperlinks provided.

The BSIP Iconography database 

The project started as personal research project in September 2014 when I started to formalise my research efforts. My research is the macrohistory of bowed stringed instruments. I focus on some of the big questions; I am interested in how the instruments and bows developed, where and when they appear, disappear; about changes in their morphology and features over time across large geographic areas. Answering these questions requires a lot of primary source data. With my background in software engineering, the storage and processing of large data sets is merely an every day task. What I wasn’t prepared for when I started out, was how difficult the data was to acquire, with a multitude of problems, such as requiring physical access to vast libraries, or references that are impossible to resolve. What was more frustrating was that I was treading a path that to a fair extent has already been trodden many times, and despite today’s computing environment these basic problems have not been addressed. These experiences led me to look at the mechanics of research, how the outcomes of research are affected by human factors, and how we present data. So alongside my own research, I decided to be a catalyst for change in the way things are done, and to help improve iconographic research. By mid 2015 this website and a global iconography database featured in the plans with the aim of solving some of the problems of musicology research and to bring some of the principles of scientific method to iconographic research.

There are five core principles I want to support and promote:

  • Unified Corpus – to collect images of primary sources that depict any bowed stringed instrument along with  associated metadata into a single place, available under Open Access to researchers as a living data set which continues to be updated,
  • Reliable Referencing – to reference every item in the corpus, down to each individual research target (bow, instrument and bowed instrument musician) that is depicted, guaranteeing that a reference resolves to iconography,
  • Data Sharing – to encourage researchers to share images and metadata of primary sources, and in the longer term to share analysis data (a move towards Open Data),
  • Reproducibility – to enable data sets to be re-created reliably and quickly, and encourage Open Methodology so that any analysis can be repeated and verified independently by anyone, anywhere in the world,
  • Improved Data Analysis and Presentation – to promote better data analysis, and enable consumers of research to better understand the context of a data analysis.

The principles above are greatly influenced by those of Open Science. By embracing these we can improve the use, analysis, presentation and understanding of iconographic material.

The images and metadata in the database are obtained from many places, including personal research and photographs, photos sent to me or that photographers have added the BSIP Flickr group, from auction houses, dealers, museums, art galleries and websites. Of course having a large number of images and accompanying metadata requires management, and this is why I developed the BSIP Insight Research Platform (IRP). The BSIP-IRP is a bespoke museum-grade digital repository supporting both desktop and mobile devices. It also uses the same image viewing technology as the Bibliotheque National France’s Gallica, and the Bodleian Library’s Digital Collections but with added functionality. All database content and images are stored on, and delivered from BSIP servers.

The website launched in February 2019 and the iconography database went live on 1st January 2021.

BSIP expands to include archaeological finds

The problems present in iconographic research also exist with the other types of historical evidence (archaeological, textual and extant instruments). In November 2021 the Global Bowed String Instrument Archaeological Finds Catalogue was launched. Until now these finds have been the subject of individual articles or have been mentioned individually in disparate places. This catalogue brought together the known archaeological finds of bowed instruments, bows, accessories, parts or fragments.

The BSIP Archaeology database goes live

On the 1st September 2022 the BSIP Archaeology database went live. This database replaces the simple Finds Catalogue with a full database using the same platform as the BSIP Iconography database. At the same time the BSIP Iconography database was expanded to include instrument accessories/part, bow accessories/part research targets. The BSIP referencing system was also epanded at the same time to incorporate these new research targets, and support for the BSIP Archaeology database.

Project Roadmap

The project has now been running for 8 years. There is much more to come.  As of the start of September 2022 the iconography database has more than 4400 sources online and continues to grow. It is now one of the largest specialist musicology/iconography databases in the world, and the world's largest repository of bowed string instrument iconography. So where we are now, what is in progress, and what is planned beyond the current work?

I : Initial Collection

Initial identification and collection of source data. In this phase over 23000 images covering around 14500 sources were collected and a further 400+ sources identified which are known to include depictions of bowed stringed instruments.

II : Website

The website for the project is now live! You are here! The website puts in place a number of infrastructure items preparing the way for the next phase.

III : Database

The software for the Global Iconography Database has had its first release (there are more features planned!). It provides a full curation platform as well as simple, and advanced searches along with the ability to browse the database from BSIP reference, dates, or by collective sources, people, creation locations or last known locations. 

IV: Cataloguing

The database is now live and data collected in Phase I is being entered into the database. This is not a speedy task, but day by day the online database continues to grow.

Now In Progress!

V: API & Open Data

Once the main cataloguing efforts are complete the project will implement Open Data.

A REST API will be published to provide acccess to metadata and images.

The underlying database will also be published in several formats.