Placement of a work of art within a formal classification scheme that groups other, similar works together on the basis of similar characteristics.




Classification terms and/or codes are used to relate an object or work to analytical tools that have been established apart from the specific object--a hierarchy, a typology, or an informal grouping. These relations imply similarities among objects based on the fact that they share a place in a classification scheme. Classification systems can be based on many characteristics, including form, shape, function, use, or social context. More general terms than those recorded in OBJECT/WORK should be included in this category. For example, if a work is identified as a chair in OBJECT/WORK - TYPE, it could be classified as furniture here.

This category does not include classification strictly by style, period, or subject: these are accommodated in their own categories. Ideally, it does not duplicate information found in the OBJECT/WORK category. Specific terms used to identify a kind of work or a kind of component of a work of art are more appropriately recorded in the OBJECT/WORK category. There may be some overlap between CLASSIFICATION and OBJECT/WORK, as objects are often referred to by classification terms, and many classification terms organize works by their "type."

Works of art can be classified in many different ways. For example, a sculpture may be seen as both a carving and a mask; a lithographic poster may be classified as a print or an advertising graphic. In order to accommodate these different approaches to an object, the subcategories in this category repeat together as a group; each possible classification term is included in its own occurrence of the category.

How an object is classified will often depend on the context within which it is being described. For example, a textile collection may have a much more detailed system for classifying certain artifacts than a history museum. A textile collection may classify a dress according to its construction, or the materials it incorporates. In a history museum, dress may be supplemented by more generic classifications, such as women's clothing or Ukrainian clothing.

Classification is often used to provide order for collections management. While it may initially seem to correspond with the structure of curatorial departments within a museum, this reflects only one way of ordering a collection and varies from museum to museum. Classification in terms of a shelf list, or a scheme for providing object locations, is a collections-management concern, and is outside the scope of the AITF Categories.

Classification systems may be locally developed, such as the Victoria & Albert Museum Classification System [1], or widely available, such as the AAT or Revised Nomenclature. Classification of visual works often requires the consultation of a visual reference or diagram that delineates a particular shape or form.

Classification terms are assigned after an examination of the object, based on guidelines specific to the particular system or institution. The determination of the appropriate term to use from a particular scheme may be based on published or unpublished sources.


Classification on the basis of style or period is assigned to its own category, STYLES/PERIODS/GROUPS/MOVEMENTS. Classification on the basis of subject matter is recorded in SUBJECT MATTER. Terms that identify the object or its parts are recorded in OBJECT/WORK - TYPE or OBJECT/WORK - COMPONENTS - TYPE. Often objects that do not have titles are known by their CLASSIFICATION - TERM. These terms should be recorded here, in order to associate an object with other objects in its class or other related classes, and in TITLES OR NAMES to help identify the object. Catalogers may expand on classification on the basis of use in the category CONTEXT.


Formal classification systems are used to relate an object to broader, narrower, and related objects. Rather than identifying the focus of the record (the object or work itself) as OBJECT/WORK does, CLASSIFICATION places the work of art in a particular context.

Classification terms group similar objects together according to varying criteria. For example, with a hierarchically structured classification system based on general classes of objects, connections between the broader term (furniture) and the narrower terms (chairs, tables, or beds) can be made. A classification scheme based on social function might connect all works with a liturgical function, whether or not their object/types are textiles, metalwork, books, or furnishings.



Classification - Term


The specific term or code from a formal classification scheme that has been assigned to a work.


painting [Figure 2 and Figure 17]
sculpture [Figure 5 and Figure 11]
graphic arts [Figure 30 and Figure 34]
furniture [Figure 13 and Figure 14]
ceramics [Figure 1 and Figure 16]


Classification terms are drawn from ordered systems of categories or from hierarchically structured thesauri. These terms may be locally defined, in common usage within a particular discipline, or developed as a national or international standard.

The level of specificity to which an object is classified (for example, whether a spindle-back rocking chair is classified as furniture or chair or rocking chair) will depend on the perspective of the discipline involved and the policy of the individual institution. Determining an appropriate level should be left to the discretion of the institution.

Classification terms can be composed of single or multiple words, or can be numeric or alphanumeric codes. Often terms are identified within a system by a code- or term-number.


Classification terms place an object within a context, as determined by many different criteria, including form, function, and use.

Researchers use classification terms to group similar objects. Such terms enable the user to assemble disparate material that share one or more common characteristics.



Terms selected from authorities that provide hierarchical structure, cross referencing, and synonymous terms enable sophisticated access to information about objects when the complexity of the source is coupled with the information about a work. An authority that identifies hydriae and kalathoi as narrower terms of vessels makes it possible to connect these three object types, linking objects with common broader terms, and so on. Where an authority that relates broader and narrower classification terms is not used, it may be desirable to suggest relations through combined terms such as vase - amphora.


The use of controlled vocabulary is recommended: examples include the AAT (especially Objects facet), ACRL/RBMS Genre Terms, ACRL/RBMS Paper Terms, ACRL/RBMS Printing and Publishing Evidence, Base Mérimée: Lexique, the British Archaeological Thesaurus, ICOM Costume Terms, the Index of Jewish Art, ISO 5127-3: Iconic Documents, ISO 5127-11: Audio-visual Documents, LC Descriptive Terms for Graphic Materials, Moving Image Materials, Revised Nomenclature, Reyniès' Le Mobilier Domestique, Social History and Industrial Classification, and Tozzer Library Headings.

Classification - Remarks


Additional notes or comments pertinent to the classification of a work of art. This subcategory may include a summary of the source where the information was found or a justification of the term chosen.

Classification - Citations


An identification of the scheme or structure from which the classification term is drawn.



Social History and Industrial Classification (SHIC)

Descriptive Terms for Graphic Materials (DTGM)

Dizionario Terminologico della Suppellettile Ecclesiastica

Objets religieux/Religious objects: Méthode d'analyse et vocabulaire/User's Guide and Terminology

ICOM Vocabulary of Basic Terms for Cataloging Costume

Revised Nomenclature


Bibliographic citations or descriptions of unpublished documents should be recorded in a standard format. Works cited may include published or unpublished classification systems developed by an individual or an institution. When a work is cited often, standard abbreviations may be developed.


Classification terms draw meaning from their context within a system. In order to establish this context, it is important to identify the system from which terms come. By identifying the classification system for the term, this subcategory provides contextual information that increases the user's understanding of the definition of the term.


Sources should be cited using a commonly accepted style manual such as The MLA Handbook or The Chicago Manual of Style.



1 Victoria and Albert Museum, Collections Department, Data Structure and Core Data, draft 1 October 1992, 40.