Research projects
'La duplice polarità estetica e storica' - Method, Aesthetics and Function of Photographs in the Work of Restorer Barbara Schleicher

Barbara Schleicher is a renowned specialist in restoring the original colours of polychrome wooden sculptures from the Middle Ages and early modern period. The restorer photographed the difficult process of removal and cleaning, documenting the various stages of her work. In 2017, she donated the photographs, mostly in colour, of 82 sculptures and paintings to the Photothek, where they were digitised, inventoried and made available online for consultation. Particularly significant are the photographs of partial exposures of juxtaposed areas, which look like vertical sections through the face or eye of a figure and show different colour versions or chronological states of the same sculpture.

In the research project on the Schleicher donation, both the significance of this particular procedure for the study of polychrome wooden sculptures and the aesthetics of the photographs themselves are studied, which, beyond their function as technical images, capture a temporal dimension in the image as the restoration and conservation work proceeds. This applies both to works of art, whose removed versions are irreversibly lost, and to photographs, which as material objects are also subject to processes of decay, restoration and transfer to other media.

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After the Black Death: Painting and Polychrome Sculpture in Norway’

An interdisciplinary project based in Conservation Studies centres on the Cultural History Museum’s collection of late-medieval liturgical objects

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Art Gardens

The ArtGarden research project tests and develops an efficient (“best practices”) matrix (tool – protocol) for monitoring, imaging and documenting (art-technical), fragile historic mixed media objects. This is used to facilitate decision making during conservation and preservation practice.

The casus in ArtGarden is the conservation and preservation of the unique collection of seven Enclosed Gardens from the Museum Hof van Busleyden. Their condition is similar to that of a vast number of museum objects kept in the Belgian Federal collections and even worldwide. Due to the mixed media nature of the Gardens this case study generates new know-how that can be applied to the conservation of other complex heritage objects. The aim is to develop ArtGarden as an international benchmarking project for conservation & preservation of original mixed media artefacts in museum environments.

Promotors of the research project are the Royal Institute for Cultural Heritage, KIK-IRPA, the University of Leuven – KU Leuven and the University of Antwerp, Axes.

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Fragmentation and Iconoclash in Medieval and Early Modern Objects

The research project aims to offer new insights to the fragmentation of devotional objects. Why have certain objects or works of art been demolished? How do they continue their life as fragments? What meanings does an object begin to bear when its material existence is radically altered? How do the objects themselves reveal the drastic moments that have occurred during their itinerary?

The primary research material consists of polychrome wood sculptures, altarpieces and reliquaries from the Baltic Sea region, dated from between 1200–1550. These objects are today held in various collections in Finland, including in the congregations of the Lutheran Church.

What is iconoclash? The concept was established by the French sociologist of science Bruno Latour, and translates into Finnish as ‘kuvakalske’. The concept does not underscore destruction per se, but brings forth the notion of transformation which is, in turn, often a cause of fragmentation. Acts of breakage and reuse, for example, are approached as episodes, which an object experiences during its itinerary - regardless of the nature of the act that has caused the object’s present state.

The art historians involved in this endeavour are Elina Räsänen, Katri Vuola, Sofia Lahti, and Saila Leskinen, who works also as research assistant. The three-year project (2020–2023) is funded by the Kone Foundation and is affiliated with the University of Helsinki.

In collaboration: Lived religion in Medieval Finland and Michel Sittow in the North? Altarpieces in Dialogue

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Mechelen Wood Sculpture from the late 15th to Early 17th Centuries

Mechelen is known as a production center for wooden sculptures mainly by the numerous resulting statuettes, dating around 1500 and in the first third of the 16th century, which were also widely exported. They worked as individual figures and were made for altarpieces and prayer boxes, the so-called besloten hofje. The study of these statuettes refers above all to the German-speaking world. However, the carving activity in Mechelen does not end with this early mass production. Even in the later 16th century and into the 17th century, the sculptural image production in Mechelen can be detected. This late Mechelen production has not yet been investigated.This project aims to do just that.

Project coordinators: Michael Rief and Dr. Dagmar Preising, Suermondt-Ludwig Museum Aachen

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The Polychromy of Early and High Medieval Wood Sculpture

In the European early and high medieval ages, wood sculptures used in ecclesiastic spaces have been vividly painted with colors and adorned with precious metals. Today, we know how these sculptures have been painted regarding technique and what types of pigments, colorants and metal leaves have been used. However, the aesthetic and artistic effects and meanings of these sculptures and their colorful coats have rarely been studied. In the field of art history, the art of sculpture as pure form has been evaluated for a long time to be more important than possible layers of color on it. This attitude resulted in ignoring and often destroying the colorful surfaces. Therefore, the proposed art historical study will investigate these colorful surfaces, called polychromies, recognizing polychrome wood sculpture as a specific art form of the early and high medieval ages. Its intention is to show that color is an essential part of these sculptures and that it significantly constitutes their aesthetic effects, liturgical functions, and artistic meanings.

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Besloten hofjes Mechelen

A blog dedicated to the research and conservation of the famous Enclosed Gardens from Mechelen.

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Carved Flemish altarpieces in Spain

The aim of the Carved Flemish Altarpieces in Spain website is to introduce and re-evaluate some of the most noteworthy examples pertaining to this particular field that were imported from the former Low Countries that was bound together with the Spanish crown at the period.

After the introductory texts, a catalogue describes twenty altarpieces in depth, providing a comprehensive appreciation of them, in addition giving details of a further eleven altarpieces.

Complementary tourist information regarding those towns and cities in which the altarpieces are located is also provided so that visitors can plan their visits and truly appreciate the altarpieces.

Lastly, there is a games section that aims to disseminate the contents of the website in a friendly and thought-provoking way

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Invisible Saints: The British Medieval Wood Sculpture Research Project

Invisible Saints is a community-driven, web-based project to locate, digitally record and document the medieval devotional wood sculpture of the British Isles, which survives, largely unrecognised, in situ, in institutional and private collections and circulating within the works of art market. The ultimate aim of this phase is to bring these works, which constitute a lost heritage of British medieval art and local culture, to the light of scholarship and to make information about them accessible in an easy to use format that appeals to academics and non-academics alike. In addition to a continuously expanding, searchable database with extensive images/references and full catalogue entries, resources available through the website will include a repository of transcribed primary documents pertaining to medieval devotional wood sculpture in the British Isles, a secondary bibliography, an index of institutions and other sites at which known works are on view to the public and a showcase for scholarly articles.

A further aim of Invisible Saints is to foster collaboration across disciplines and amongst different academic and non-academic interest groups. Enhancing understanding of British medieval devotional wood sculpture will spark the interest of scholars from a variety of disciplinary perspectives, as well as providing a resource for conservation specialists, museum professionals, collectors, private enthusiasts and local heritage bodies. From the outset, the project seeks to actively engage these various constituencies by enlisting submissions for possible inclusion in the database and other resources and encouraging discussion through an online forum and social media. Moreover, the project’s subject matter (appealing simultaneously to historians and art historians alike by linking to such issues as travelling and artisans and their techniques, local patronage, iconographic innovation and translation, ‘lifecycle’ issues such as ‘survival and re-contextualisation’, communal memory and transformation of the British Church and the experience of local belief into the sixteenth-century and beyond) offers the unique opportunity to unite the efforts and interests of the Warwick History and History of Art departments under the auspices of the Network for Parish Research.

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