Art meets artefacts

ALMA links these depictions of pre-industrial objects, dating from the late Middle Ages to the nineteenth century, in paintings and prints to examples of similar material objects. Here, ALMA research results are published. Images and objects are also linked in the Collection Boijmans Online.

About ALMA

Cooking pots,  pass glasses, bellarmine jugs, spoons, wine jugs, paintings and pilgrim badges… These are just a few of the many artefacts that have been depicted by European artists through the centuries. ALMA links these depictions of pre-industrial objects, dating from the late Middle Ages to the nineteenth century, in paintings and prints to examples of similar material objects.

ALMA is an on-line research tool by which the various aspects of pre-industrial objects and utensils, in design, typology and utilitarian function, can be studied in relation to the visual arts. This interdisciplinary approach not only renders valuable information about the material objects themselves, but the objects depicted can throw new light on a painting or print.


ALMA is based on a documentation system developed earlier and known as the Boijmans Van Beuningen Documentatiesysteem voor Pre-industriële Gebruiksvoorwerpen © 1989 (Boijmans Van Beuningen Documentation System for Pre-Industrial Utensils © 1989). Curator Alma Ruempol (1939-1992) initiated this extensive system in the 1980s. The basis was the Van Beuningen- de Vriese collection, a private collection of European utensils (twelfth-nineteenth centuries), that was originally loaned to the museum and later, in 1991, was donated to the city of Rotterdam. The interdisciplinary documentation system developed into a comprehensive card system based on the museum’s collections of applied and fine arts.

At the moment the ALMA database comprises about 2,500 objects, 300 paintings and 2,000 prints from the collections of the Boijmans Van Beuningen Museum. In the future this first selection, which is based on the original documentation system, will be extended further based on both the museum’s own collections (for example adding the collection of drawings) and in collaboration with other (museum) collections.

ALMA Database

The ALMA database offers the possibility to link objects and the representations of these objects by using corresponding search terms. The search takes place according to a structured system in which the name of the object and the material key word have a logical and determined place. Below are a number of points of departure for the ALMA website:

The indexed object types are based on the original documentation system and the Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen collections.  In this way certain articles of clothing accessories such as button, buckle, shoe and (lace) collar, are to be found in the ALMA database, but other articles of clothing are not represented. On the other hand, there are types of objects, such as broom, basket and barrel,that are indexed but not (yet) linked to material objects, but have been included deliberately. These are the type of objects that lack durability and of which there are scarcely any examples left, but played a prominent role both in the visual arts and in daily life.

Based on the design and typology of an object a specific object term has been chosen. In the case of object types that are difficult to distinguish from each other, such as jugs and pitchers, terms that are often used for the same type of object, a distinction has been made based on formal characteristics such as, in this case, the presence or absence of a pouring lip: a pitcher has a lip or spout and a jug does not. The term tankard has been chosen for a straight-sided drinking vessel with a handle that is sometimes referred to as a ‘beer mug’.

The colour of an object is an important element in the identification of the material from which it is made. The materials and types of materials are more easily identified in paintings than in prints that, after all, are in black and white.

ALMA uses thesauri (hierarchically ordered word lists) so that it is possible to search under a broader object term. For example the term spoon is part of the broader category of cutlery.

In the thesauri the original historical names of utensils have not been used, with the exception of a few terms such as rummer and trencher, since such words are still in use today.

ALMA Showcase

In addition to the ALMA Database, which can be searched for objects and utensils, there is the ALMA Showcase in which researchers publish their results in the form of short articles.  For many years Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen has acquired information on material culture from interdisciplinary research. The results of such research have been presented in the form of special exhibitions, presentations of collections and publications such as:

-Household goods of a miller’s widow. Utensils from a 16th century probate inventory (1986)

-Pre-industrial Utensils 1150-1800 (1991)

-Quintessens. Things worth knowing about eight centuries of kitchen utensils (1992)

-Hooks and Eyes. Clothing accessories 1450-1650 from the Van Beuningen-de Vriese Collection (1993)

-Sacred and Profane. Late medieval badges from the H.J.E. van Beuningen Collection (1993)

-Glass without Gloss. Utility glass from five centuries excavated in the Low Countries 1300-1800 (1994)

-One Man’s Trash is Another Man’s Treasure. The metamorphosis of the European utensil in the New World (1995)

-Last Supper. 800 Years of European cutlery. The Klaus Marquardt Collection (1998)

-Bellarmines and pointed nose jugs. Form, use and meaning of face jugs 1500-1700 (2002)

-Senses and Love. Painters of daily life in the seventeenth century (2004)

-Willem Kalf (1619-1693) (2006)

-Early Dutch Painting of the late Middle Ages (2008)

-Images of Erasmus (2008)


Website and development

Fabrique: Anouk Klinkers, Dave de Fijter, Paul Stork, Martijn Gorree

C-it: Frans Bridié

Reekx: Lizzy Jongma, Joost Brinks 

Development and content Museum  Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen:

Alexandra Gaba-van Dongen

Christel van Hees

Nynke van der Wal

Jonieke van Es

Peter van der Coelen

Laura Morison

Texts ALMA showcase

The authors


Jill Bradley


Studio Buitenhof

Studio Tom Haartsen

Studio Tromp

Financial support

Agency NL, Ministry of Education, Culture and Science (Ministerie van Onderwijs, Cultuur & Wetenschap)

With thanks to:

Betty Aardewerk, Christiaan Jörg, Lotte Meijer, Irma Thoen en the staff of Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen