Standardized translations for titles of artworks?
June 18, 2017 4:47 PM   Subscribe

Is there a formal or informal standard for translating the titles of artworks named using languages other than the one you're writing in? E.g. an extensive and well-known multilingual catalog that everyone tends to refer to, rather than translating afresh every time? (Not because they can't, but just to make things easier for others doing work in the same field.) I'm particularly interested in English titles for French paintings from 1800-present mentioned in academic works, but any information on the general case would be appreciated too.
posted by No-sword to Media & Arts (5 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Not my field, but an artist friend says academic citations of art works tend to use the Chicago style. This includes the current location / owner of the work, eg London: Tate galleries. You then use their translation, if they have one in their catalogue. (No idea what you do if this isn't available... )
posted by yesbut at 11:47 PM on June 18, 2017

Thanks yesbut! So if as a result of that you end up with works that are similarly titled in the original but inconsistent in your English text due to different translation approaches, that's expected and okay?
posted by No-sword at 12:54 AM on June 19, 2017

Not my field either, but artworks are often listed in relatively authoritative catalogues raisonnés where this kind of information can be found. It should be noted that even the original name of a painting is often subject to confusion (the artist may have not named the painting, or the title was lost, or the title was changed at some point by someone), and translated titles fare even worse.

This introduction of Daumier's catalogue raisonné makes the point that international art dealers have been known to provide titles "liberally" for artworks, so that the same work may end up having different titles, in native or translated language. Random example: this famous Rembrandt painting has many English titles: it's commonly known as "The Night Watch" but the Netherlands Institute for Art History (RKD) gives it the English title "Civic guardsmen of Amsterdam under command of Banninck Cocq". Note that RKD seems to be authoritative for Dutch paintings, so that should be a good start, but then the Rijksmuseum gives it two other titles: "Militia Company of District II under the Command of Captain Frans Banninck Cocq, Known as the ‘Night Watch’" and "Officers and other civic guardsmen of District II in Amsterdam, under the command of Captain Frans Banninck Cocq and Lieutenant Willem van Ruytenburch, known as ‘The Night Watch’". Even though this one the most famous paintings in the world, we can see that the two major state institutions dealing with it cannot agree on a standard translation. It's probably better to think of translated titles as multi-valued fields, using the translations provided by catalogues raisonnés or authoritative institutions.
posted by elgilito at 3:48 AM on June 19, 2017 [3 favorites]

The Getty Research Institute is building a vocabulary called CONA - the Cultural Object Name Authority, which will probably be close to what you are looking for - if and when it's ever finished. The enormity of the task is plain once you think about it for a while. A sample record gives you an idea of the information they are collating to create a record for any given cultural object.

They describe it: "CONA compiles titles, attributions, depicted subjects, and other metadata about works of art, architecture, and other cultural heritage, both extant and historical, linked to museum collections, special collections, archives, libraries, scholarly research, and other resources."

I don't have any connection to this project, but I do use the Getty's other hierarchical vocabularies for cataloging on a regular basis: the Art and Architecture Thesaurus, the Thesarus of Geographic Names, and the Union List of Artist's Names. They all are useful for deciding on standardized spellings of names (mostly geographic and personal names) that are often translated many different ways.
posted by gyusan at 10:19 AM on June 19, 2017 [1 favorite]

Thanks all! My takeaway from this is that there isn't yet a single solution everyone adopts, but there are options. I'll figure out what works best for me.
posted by No-sword at 5:22 PM on June 20, 2017

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