Opinion


OPINION


In this section we are storing the present and past Opinion pieces with their related images so that perhaps over a time some decipherable narrative might begin to appear. This is not the intention – each piece is an independent thought of its time, though always connected to the work of the Foundation – but it is quite likely that a pattern may form – that´s the fun of unintended consequences - a little like the rivers that form on pages of text. We shall see.

Digital Protocols

01-03-2017


I tried to find a good image of the Rowland Lockey painting, painted in 1593 -  after Holbein the Younger's contemporary work  - of the Sir Thomas More, his father, his household and his descendents  prompted by an article in the Sunday Times (Nicholas Hellen) about the interventions made at the order of Sir Roy Strong - then Director of the National Portrait Gallery in London.  Of course there are many high resolution photographs of the present, altered, object - it is in the Gallery and is well documented - an iconic image (3m x 2.25m), a marvellous and strangely intimate painting of a Tudor household - Erasmus said it was like being in the room with the family. What I couldn't find was a good record of the painting before the removal of the Catholic artefacts (five shields and two scrolls) which Strong was apparently advised were later additions and which he instructed should be removed as there were 'horrid'. 

Serendipitously, on the same page as the article about the Lockey painting was another piece - this by Dalya Alberge - which concerned a work that can be seen (from March 15th to June 25th) in the National Gallery - the re-creation of the Borgherini Chapel from the church of San Pietro in Montorio. This is very nearly a contemporary work to the Holbein - but in this case is still a truly Catholic image - painted by the partnership of Michelangelo and his protégé Sebastiano between 1516 and 1524 - The Transfiguration and Flagellation of Christ

Read the full text here

Contemporary Heritage



02-02-2017
 
In the Spring The Wallace Collection, in its educational programme for children, is presenting a programme called: Technology and Techniques in Sculpture where the young participants will see how works of art were made and the complex processes that were necessary. The study of techniques used to create two and three dimensional works has long been a fascination for many and museums and institutions are constantly researching as well as providing programmes to increase our understanding.

As the 21st century develops one of the great changes that we are witnessing is the acceleration in many areas of technology – communications, medical, industrial, imaging, computing, transport, cryptology and, of course, in the creation and preservation of works of art. In the middle of the last century ‘science’ was still not seen as a subject that had relevance to art – Sir Kenneth Clarke – then Director of The National Gallery in London was eventually persuaded to include scientific research into the Gallery’s armoury – though his comments were not on the positive side. The impetus for science in conservation had started in Germany with Friedrich Rathgen at the end of the C19th (though people like Pasteur and Faraday had done early analysis) and was now unavoidable – well, at least its tacit acceptance was.

This is clearly not the attitude now and the importance of technology (or science) in both conservation and preservation of our heritage is now a fully accepted good.This is clearly not the attitude now and the importance of technology (or science) in both conservation and preservation of our heritage is now a fully accepted good.

Read the full text here.

A Battalion of Cameras


23-01-2017

I was reading Paul Fussell’s wonderful and wise The Great War and Modern Memory recently – it’s like a long, gentle, entirely benign tutorial of the old style. A calm and articulate text intersected frequently and intelligently with lines of verse, contemporary comment, vivid paragraphs, poignant letters, entire poems, bawdy songs, simple couplets, explaining in a literary sense how the Great War (and also the subsequent one) changed a generation and created our world. It was written in 1975 – when the author knew where we had been and where we might be headed. It is built using what was written and then its context is interpreted so that the memorial helps us understand, reveals to us at least part of what makes us what we are. That is the place that our cultural heritage – both literary and artistic – has in our lives. It is profoundly important and, sadly, often ignored or overlooked.

Here’s a section in the early part of the book which lays the ground for the later study of the various aspects of how man can be coerced into horror and what living in and with that horror feels like. The symbolism of ruined architectural elements standing starkly in view from the mud and mire and organised slaughter of the trenches was profound - this was Ypres. “At Ypres it was the famous Cloth hall, once a masterpiece of medieval Flemish civic building. Its gradual destruction by artillery and its pathetic final dissolution were witnessed by hundreds of thousands, who never forgot this eloquent emblem of what happens when war collides with art.”

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The Homepage comes alive


10-10-2016

The look of this Homepage is changing - an organic process by which Jess and Natalia are bringing it alive. The slider – the thing at the top that shows news items consecutively – and then the Highlight which is there to draw your attention to a project with current immediacy – have taken on an independent life. Clicking through the slider shows just how the Foundation is growing and how the work becomes more and more important. So much is happening and so many projects and teams and wonderful images. I thought I’d take the journey and explain it a little – all the stories are set out in more detail in the News section.
So, the journey, as I write – and it changes almost daily so this Opinion piece will be out of date immediately but the scope and importance and energy is what I want to remark on  -  starts with the return from Russia of Eva and Pedro with recorded data on the unique C15th frescoes from the Ferapontov Monastery. Moving on, Alex and Ferdy can be seen (at least, Alex can, Ferdy is the less flattering shot from behind) in Nigeria from where they have just returned with extraordinary recordings of the Cross River Monoliths – that are scattered and, I hear, many sadly ignored locally, though some are still intact and some deeply cared for – though all deserve our attention.

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Peril in Venice


4-09-2016

When one goes to Venice – which for many wonderful reasons large numbers of us will this year, we think often of preservation and the peril Venice faces. That’s because we all know that the land upon which the city sits is sinking. That has been slowed by the prohibition on drawing water from the aquifer but the high tide – acqua alta – levels are becoming more frequent and the lagoon is rising inexorably as well.
So we are always conscious of preservation and restoration in Venice as we are also conscious that the city still looks marvellous, floating almost and serene. Many of the buildings look worn – as they might, they’ve been there a long time – since the original slave trade made the city so rich. But many are copies of what was and many more are heavily restored.
Across St Mark’s canal is the island upon which the Monastery of San Giorgio Maggiore stands – the glorious home of the Fondazione Giorgio Cini. Followers of the Factum story may know of the painting that hangs on the end wall of the refectory – where the building itself was designed by Palladio as its home. It is, of course, the Wedding at Cana by Paolo Veronese. Thought by many to be the greatest painting in the world – certainly that was true until colour reproduction, copies, became cheap and reliable – which is when the Mona Lisa became so well known that it became the greatest, a bye word for ‘art’. 

Read the full text here.

Facsimiles at Masterpiece


16-07-2016

The Foundation was at the Masterpiece event in London during July and its stand was rather different from the others who clustered around it - they were there to present some of the wonders of our heritage and they were wonders - for sale.

The diversity of objects, the levels of opulence of some and the nihilistic blankness of others presented a marvellous journey through what the world's collectors want to see and own. The quality of all the works was breathtaking - the details of marquetry, painting, gilding, polishing, carving, engineering, metalwork and, of course artistic skill were tremendous and the sheer scale of the event and of its contents was breathtaking.
Quietly placed between two of the world's great antique dealers was the stand for the Foundation. Designed by Charlotte Skene Catling and Adam Lowe it was a discrete theatre , dramatically and beautifully exhibiting some of the work of the Foundation and its aims. The Teschen Table (now in the Louvre) facsimile enticed visitors past the Cluny Christ - created in Madrid and which baffled every inspection - and through a series of monochrome flats secreted behind which were shelves and boxes and openings containing objects that represented the variety of work of the Foundation.
All the objects were facsimiles - and they all had an important place in the story of preservation.

Read the full text here
 

The Arch of Triumph: Palmyra


03-05-2016

On April 19th a severely reduced scale impression of part of the Arch of Triumph in Palmyra was shown to the press in Trafalgar Square in London. While we are pleased that the terrible damage to the original in Syria is being highlighted - and indeed the risk to all of our cultural heritage - we are concerned that this particular 'media spectacular' exhibited a very poor example of reproduction of part of the Arch structure.  This replica was apparently routed in Egyptian marble using a 3D model which was derived from relatively low resolution photographs, resulting in the routed stone having a smoothed and even surface. We have tried, so far unsuccessfully, to get any real detail of the process and technology used in the recording or the accuracy of this work. We believe absolutely that anyone engaged in cultural preservation should share all their knowledge and technology openly, as we do, to help others who wish to do similar work or to advance our understanding of the process. This lack of information, and what looks like poor quality in itself should not be too worrying - any recording is better than none - but we feel there are questions that need to be answered so that we fully can understand this process in order to evaluate it. We would also like to comment if we feel that there are elements, processes, connections and even hyperbole that we would question. You will find a brief analysis here based on the little data that has been made available, our inspection of the object and our knowledge of the issues - we have also reproduced a brief review (and Opinion piece) of the various technologies that have been mentioned by the presenters which we complied when the first reports from IDA were surfacing about their intentions and the 'new' technology to be used.

The difference between history and mystery is evidence


23-03-2016

This was said to us by Ahmed, the son of Sami Angawi (great architect and heritage preserver) who he was quoting - as he showed us around his vaulting, open and multi levelled house created using artisanal traditions - in Jeddah. We were in Jeddah to talk about the possibility of preserving the record of what is now left of the old town, Al-Balad - a marvellous maze of stone houses that are all that remains of the walled city - the ancient crossroads of South, East and West and port of entry to Medina and Mecca. As you walk through the maze, spaces open - seemingly at random - but they aren't random they are carefully positioned to catch the breeze and pass it on down the streets, like water carriers. The houses are all dressed with an intricate filigree of woodwork - designed to let in breezes but exclude the fierce sun - which makes the town's spaces delicate, complicated and mysterious. Ahmed is working with a very forward thinking foundation, Community Jameel, in the Kingdom with whom we might also work - to do what we can to help preserve this history - he is running a workshop where children and adults can learn something of the stories the woodwork tells - through working directly with the designs and the cutting tools...

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3D Cameras


13-09-2015

We, along with many others, are looking to find ways to save and preserve heritage objects and sites that are in such danger - especially in the Middle East - using digital technology. Sadly there is a little misunderstanding about that technology and what phrases like 3D imaging and resolution actually mean and how these techniques can help. So, this Opinion is a quick review - the website links will take you to more - as the Foundation's focus is based on the accurate recording in three dimensions and we want to remove any misunderstanding of what this means and entails. It has been possible to record stereoscopic images on what are called ‘3D cameras’ since the 19th century, but these don't actually record three-dimensional data - they record an illusion of 3D on a flat plain that can be viewed with special glasses or as lenticular prints. Photogrammetry, multiple images taken with a decent SLR camera and a constant light source, can record 3D data when the recorded data is processed with the right software. This can be a relatively cheap and efficient method when access to sites is difficult and heavy or sensitive equipment cannot be used. What is essential, though, is the processing of the recorded raw data as it is not yet a 3D image - it is a very noisy set of data. 3D Scanning has, in recent years, become part of a coherent and non-contact approach. A number of different methods exist for both scanning and photogrammetry, each with their own advantages and limitations - see details here. The challenge is to identify the right system for the right application: no one system can do everything.

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Viewed from afar


31-05-2015

An article in the Wall St Journal was pointed out to me last week - not a paper I am used to coming across  important cultural references in normally, but here was one. And it resonated. The article - Europe Braces for a Summer Travel Crush,  (E. Gamerman/I.Landauro/L. Moloney) is a pragmatic, fact filled, un-romatic and practical view of what is happening to our heritage sites and objects now that mass leisure has coupled with the growing ability of previously restricted visitors from newly emerged economies to create vast crowds in all the great sites and museums. And these visitors have little time, often a limited budget but they have a desire to see the important objects of the Western Heritage. Coincidentally, hence the resonance, I was in Prague over the last few days - a city that used to have the atmosphere of history's quiet continuum (though its history was far from quiet), walking across the Charles Bridge in the evening was idyllic (and that was really not that long ago). Now it's like the subway at rush hour, all day, packed with clearly frustrated human traffic trying to get to the next 'attraction' first - whilst many are there with the idea of cheap beer and all night bars  - and the mixture is not good.

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Positive Growth


30-07-2015

A book was published recently by César Hidalgo - the Director of Macro Connections at MIT (he is based in the Media Lab where visualisation tools are his focus) called Why Information Grows: The Evolution of Order, from Atoms to Economies" (Allen Lane, 2015) that has a central theme that is fascinating and is, I believe, a powerful area of thought for economists, philosophers and all of us. The book looks at the knowledge that has compounded since the beginning of time - and the value and use of that knowledge - or data. We have always looked at the human capital that is employed in the productive economy as the growth factor that drove our world. But if we look at the knowledge embodied in that human capital and then look beyond it - to the accumulated information in everything, everything, not just in our minds - then we have a new clue.

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Nothing is new


15-04-2015

The last Opinion piece concerned Simon Schama’s article, an article he wrote in response to the still images of the wanton destruction of sculpture in Nimrud and his reflection on our own long history of such episodes.
But today we have been shocked where we thought we couldn’t be - not only the human, or inhuman, stories coming out of Yarmouk refugee camp - but the footage that has just swirled around the web. The video shows initially, yes, Assyrian sculpture being destroyed with sledgehammers - but we had already been shocked by the images, still and past, done, as they were - and it was these that were the catalyst for Schama’s piece.
But then, sadly, in this video we progress beyond the terrible smashing of stone to moving images of wonderful man/animal sculptures and relief carving and script story panels, gracefully, benignly filmed from outside their protective wires, placed to preserve the 3,000 year old surfaces from human intervention.

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A history of destruction


17-03-2015

A stirring article by Simon Schama was published in the FT on March 13th - Artefacts under attack - and instead of travelling directly to Nimrud and the smashing of Assyrian statuary with sledgehammers or the even more efficient use of bulldozers in Hatra  - he first reflects on less recent but nonetheless equally wanton destruction. He talks about the first English Civil War when a Puritan military official named William “Basher” Dowsing energetically destroyed whatever he could of sacred art in the churches and colleges of East Anglia, his area of jurisdiction, which sadly included Cambridge among the many ancient towns founded there around religious institutions. Schama goes back another hundred years to the protestant Reformation in England as it continued under young Edward VI where he says England lost as much as 90 per cent of its Christian art.
Civil war, religion and revolution throw up some frighteningly iconoclastic people and cults who force others to adopt their worlds of subjection and he mentions a number of these to press home the point that the present horrors are nothing very new.

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Of Black Swans and Hope


25-02-2015

One of the activities that make us different as humans from most other animals is planning - and planning requires that truly distinct and humanly defining emotion, hope.
Without hope we are nothing and with hope - we have a future, we plan. We plan and we try to anticipate so that our lives can be fruitful and we can derive the greatest pleasure, fun, progress, tranquillity, grace, development, productivity - whatever is our hope and desire - from the efficient and organised use of time and resource. It is all rather dry but it works - to an extent. We are surprised when the unexpected happens - obviously - or it would be expected and not a surprise. We've all heard of Lorenz's butterfly effect - we live in a big world where the contagion of events has become normal and understandable, we know every effect has a cause. But what is remarkable is how we don't factor in Black Swan events.

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From Antiope to Kardashian


09-01-2015

The Met is staging an exhibition at the moment, Bartholomeus Spranger - Splendor and Eroticism in Imperial Prague curated by Sally Metzler, showing the works of Spranger (1546-1611) - from his early life and scrapes in Antwerp, where influences from the Met's Collection are neatly used, through his successful life across Europe as a painter of great talent ...and also great imagination. He worked in the courts of Popes and Emperors and painted a great variety of subjects - but he is really remembered for a divers body of work which represents, through his C16th, highly educated, technically marvellous painterly style that is full of narrative, allusion and gesture, wonderfully realised characters but...........not wearing a lot of clothes. The bodies are as good as they get - he created truly sensual, sexy narratives that could not be mistaken for anything else and his clients loved him. He broke bounds  - but with taste, with style and with consummate skill - the only thing missing is oil on the rounded flesh.  I will explain.

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Ruskin's Ruins


09-10-2014

There is a tremendous show at the Barbican in London at the moment of photographic images of modern ruins -  it is a considerable show - these images are extraordinarily evocative and their subject matter incredibly divers and exciting so a very large number of exhibits are being displayed. And the added irony is that it is housed in this monumental concrete statement to the solid 1980s. The subjects range from blighted council blocks in London, subway stations in Brazil, grandiose Chinese projects, Portuguese colonial structures in Mozambique to sad forgotten Venezuelan dreams - all statements of vulnerability and fragility - and beauty.

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Bucket List


08-09-2014

As a phrase 'bucket list' is now no longer just mainstream - it has become establishment. President Obama was quoted as saying, after his drop-over/photo of visit at Stonehenge that the visit  “Knocked this off my bucket list,” as he moved on. The phrase comes from the 2007 feelgood movie (released on Christmas Day!) about two terminally ill men with clichéd and very divergent ethnosocial typing crossing off things to do before they died.

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