Digital Reflections of the Buddha: A Life in Text and Many Images

June 4, 2019 | Yale Center for British Art

Delivered at The Future of Images Symposium on IIIF standards held at the Yale Center for British Art.

Summary From the Organizers

On June 4th, 2019, Yale hosted a daylong program entitled “The Future of Images at Yale: Introducing Yale’s new Image Standard” to demonstrate to nearly 200 faculty, staff and students the potential offered by the Yale Library and Museums’ shared commitment to implementing IIIF-enabled images across their collections. 

International Image Interoperability Framework (IIIF) is a model for seamlessly gathering, presenting and annotating digital images from collections at Yale and around the globe.  IIIF allows scholars and users to bring together images from collections cordoned off in discrete catalogs and it will eventually provide a cornerstone of an integrated cross-collections search and discovery platform at Yale.  This image framework also solves the problem of delivering high-quality large-scale images over the web by nimbly requesting pieces of images as requested for deep-zooming by the IIIF viewer tools, instead of accessing/ downloading unwieldy large image files.   

The program began with introductions from Amy Meyers, Director of the Yale Center for British Art, and Susan Gibbons, the Stephen F. Gates ‘68 University Librarian and Deputy Provost for Collections and Scholarly Communication at Yale University.  Their remarks set the stage for an exciting day of demonstrations, conversations, and questions about the opportunities provided by this collaborative adoption of IIIF at Yale. 

The morning session included a set of presentations from IIIF experts from Yale, Harvard University, Stanford University, and North Carolina State University.  They provided a broad context for how IIIF has been integrated at peer institutions, as well as showcasing some of the most interesting issues and projects that they’ve seen.  They also spoke to future developments coming soon to IIIF and the IIIF viewer tools.


The afternoon sessions began with a panel discussion featuring the morning speakers that was moderated by Edward Town and Emmanuelle Delmas-Glass from the Yale Center for British Art.  The audience had a lively set of questions that raised interesting conversations about implementation, adoption, use, features, and challenges.  The remainder of the afternoon’s programming consisted of scholarship Use Cases built with IIIF-enabled images.  These projects each demonstrated new aspects of scholarly inquiry that would not have been otherwise possible. 

Professor Andrew Quintman from Wesleyan University shared his Life of the Buddha project ( ), in which he has digitally reproduced and analyzed a corpus of seventeenth-century Tibetan texts and images, including a historically unique mural of the Buddha’s life story approximately 300 feet in length. His project required an elegant solution to show complex relationships across a diverse set of materials, and he sought to allow users (scholars, students, and the general public) to read and explore the story without prioritizing text over image. By expanding the Mirador Viewer’s IIIF functionality, he was able to map irregular chapter and scene boundaries on a series of very large image files, and link them to a structured hierarchy of annotations in both English and unicode Tibetan. The Mirador Viewer allows users to better understand complex relationships between the visual logic of the murals and the textual logic of the literary narrative through multiple points of entry. In doing so the project addresses a challenge facing many in the Humanities today: how can we analyze and present literature, visual art, and their institutional contexts in a synthetic fashion.  Nicolas Frisch, Ph.D. candidate in East Asian Languages and Literature, spoke about the Ten Thousand Rooms ( ) project at Yale, which is directed by Professor Tina Lu and Professor Mick Hunter.  This project uses crowdsourcing and IIIF images to translate, transcribe and annotate pre-modern chinese texts.  IIIF makes possible an endless array of annotations (marginalia) on top of image-based primary sources, an effort which is impossible to replicate on modern typeset print or original rare and fragile source material.  As an open platform, Ten Thousand rooms invites interactive collaboration between scholars, students, and enthusiastic amateurs and hobbyists whose wealth of time, storytelling expertise and language skills cannot be matched.  The project is addressing issues of access restrictions in China and the US, roles and permissions, and working with layers for other kinds of textual and data analysis. 

This session wrapped up with an interesting Q & A about how projects like Life of the Buddha fit into the traditional scholarly monograph, peer reviewed publishing model.  The speakers also addressed issues related to device screen size limitations and long-term preservation solutions.


The afternoon continued with a second session devoted to IIIF-enabled scholarship.  Lisa Fagin Davis from The Medieval Academy in Boston discussed her work reconstructing dismembered manuscripts and other kinds of dispersed virtual reconstruction.  She also provided a live demonstration of how scholars can easily create a custom manifest to compare images for analysis and study.  Edward Town, Head of Collections Information and Access, and Assistant Curator for Early Modern Art at the Yale Center for British Art presented his ambitious project to collection 4000 images of Tudor and Jacobean paintings and conservation images for study and identification.  By using IIIF to draw together images from disparate collections around the world, the Yale Center for British Art was able to use advanced technologies such as infrared-reflectography, x-ray, macro x-ray fluorescence, dendrochronology and spectrometry, as well as deep zoom brushstroke analysis and primary source research to begin stitching together clues to identify painters and make attributions.   Nelson Rios, Head of Biodiversity Informatics and Data Science at the Peabody Museum closed out the afternoon sessions with a forward thinking case study of how IIIF might be integrated into the work of scholars in natural history.  Peabody has a large and growing collection of diverse digitized objects that is not yet IIIF enabled.  He present a wide set of potential uses that used IIIF’s broad feature set, including: pan, zoom, annotations, multi-image comparison, sequencing of data, potential for modelling and measurements, cross-collections comparison, and data sharing.  He further explored some possible future scenarios in which machine learning and training and 3d visualizations might bring new depth to IIIF-enabled image sets.


The program wrapped up with a brief recap and observations from E.C. Schroeder, Director of the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Yale.  Yale is in the early stages of bringing IIIF technology to campus and he captured the delight expressed by many about the broad interest across campus, as well as the commitment at Yale for collaboration and breaking down the silos that currently isolate collections.  IIIF enables new kinds of research, teaching, learning, conservation and he recognized the challenges and opportunities offered by Yale’s cultural heritage IT collaboration across the museums and libraries for making Yale’s extensive collections widely and easily available to scholars, students and visitors on campus and around the world.

For more information about IIIF or Yale’s Cultural Heritage collaboration, please contact

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *