“New Views of the Middle Ages: The Art Exhibition, Technology, Accessibility, and New Knowledge”
I'm ann collins, goodyear. Co-director. With frank goodyear. Of the bowdoin college, museum of art. And today, i join you. From the virtual, galleries, of the museum. And specifically. From our special, exhibition. New views, of the middle ages, highlights, from the wyvern, collection. In the face of a historic, health, crisis. When covid19. Has significantly. Restricted. Our ability. To gather in person. Technology. Has been a lifeline. For many of us in museums. This is certainly the case, at the bowdoin college, museum of art. Which remains, closed, to the public, along with the rest of our campus. As a precaution. Against, covid19. And where we are eagerly, partnering, with our faculty, colleagues. And students. Who have nimbly. Pivoted. To online, teaching, and learning. This summer, and fall. As we considered. How to share art with students. And how to give them the exciting. Immersive, experience. With historic, objects. Traditionally. Provided. By shows, such as new views, of the middle ages. We explored, and knew, the question, of how digital, strategies. Could pave the way. For new modes, of engagement. Study, and enjoyment. Today we have an opportunity, to hear from a panel of cultural, experts. About, how, new tools, of communication. And visualization. Have affected, the work they are doing. And how these tools. May in turn, shape museum, practice. Scholarship. And broad exposure, to the arts, in the future. We are pleased to be joined by katherine, geary. Visiting, assistant, professor, of art history, at bowden. And former, research, associate, at the walters, museum, in baltimore. Curator, of the exhibition, that brings us together, today. Kate has done a masterful, job, collaborating. With students. And, reconceptualizing. The work, of the scholar. And curator. In our new environment. Kate will introduce, our panelists. And share more information. About today's, program. Thank you for being with us. Kate, over to you. Well thank you anne, um, thanks for uh that introduction, and thanks to everyone for joining us today, in our virtual audience, and of course to our panelists. It has been clear for some time that digital, technologies. Have become, a major component, of how museums, reach their audiences. And as new technologies, have developed, especially over the last three decades. These have opened new doors for museums, to reach more people. And to engage with those people in new ways both online, and in the galleries. This past year of course we've seen museums, around the world close their doors. As we have wrestled with the covet 19 pandemic. And perhaps one silver lining in this is that it has, opened an opportunity, to reevaluate. The effectiveness. Of these various digital, technologies. And perhaps even for us to envision some new paths forward. So this seemed like an excellent moment, to have a conversation. About these technologies. And how they. Have changed and continued to change the relationships, between museums. Museum, audiences. And the works of art themselves. We have invited a panel of speakers, who represent. Different aspects of the museum, world, all with an interest in the medieval, period but with experiences. And insights, that will be applicable, to the larger questions. Around display, and the availability, of works of art from any period. So i want to start by briefly introducing, our panelists. Then i'm going to turn the mic over, to them. In turn to. Offer a kind of brief introduction, of their own, work and their own take on this larger issue. And then we will start the panel discussion at the heart of today's, program. There will be some time afterwards, at towards the end of the hour to take questions from our audience. And you can use the q a button in zoom to pose a question, you can pose a question at any time, or you can wait until the end. So our three panelists, today. Are, uh, barbara drake bain, from the metropolitan, museum of art, ayob darillo from the british museum, sorry from the british library, and sir paul ruddock, who has taken on, leadership, and advisory, roles at many museums.
Barbara Drake bain, is the paul and jill ruddick senior curator, for the met cloisters. Where she has been a prolific, curator, and scholar. She has curated, many blockbuster, medieval, exhibitions, at the met including, jerusalem. 1000, to 1400. Every people under heaven. And prague the crown of bohemia. Her many publications, on reliquaries. Enamels, and other works of medieval, art are fundamental, reading for medieval, art historians, and i know that students in many of my classes have had to read her work at some point. Ayo darillo, is an expert in ethiopian, manuscripts. The particular, interest, in magic, and divination, within a christian context. He works at the british library in the department, of asia and africa studies where he has curated, several exhibitions, including. African, scribes. Manuscript, culture of ethiopia. The first exhibition, at the british library. Devoted, to their collection of ethiopian, manuscripts. He was also co-curator, of the show harry potter history of magic. In addition to several articles on these topics he has delivered a number, of public talks and contributed, to several, bbc, documentaries. Sir paul ruddick is a businessman, philanthropist. And patron of the arts, who has a particular, interest in the medieval, period. And has served in a number of key leadership, and advisory, roles at major museums. He was chairman of the victoria, and albert museum in london from 2007. To 2015. He is a trustee of the metropolitan, museum of art in new york, a fellow of the society, of antiquaries, in london a former trustee of the samuel culture sorry the samuel, cortold, trust. And a former chairman of the gilbert trust for the arts. Sir paul has also been a very generous financial supporter. Of a number of arts and educational, institutions. Including bowdoin college, the courthold institute of art and the british museum, among many others. And before we begin i also want to introduce, our moderator, for today's panel, sean burris. The andrew w mellon postdoctoral. Curatorial, fellow at the bccma. Sean is a specialist, in ancient and early medieval, mediterranean. Art, and one of his primary, roles at the bcma. Is to enable faculty, and students to engage with the collection. And sean has really made huge strides here to introduce. And incorporate, a number of digital technologies. Into the ways in which faculty. Use the college's, collections, for teaching and research. Sean has certainly worked closely with me and a number of other faculty members, to explore.
New Digital ways for students to engage with medieval, objects. So he is well poised, to lead this discussion. So. Without, any further ado i want to turn. I want to turn the mic over to. Barbara, bain who will begin. And, i'm going to be, also, sharing. My screen to show some slides. On her behalf. So barbara you can begin whenever you're ready. Thanks so much kate, and thanks for starting, us off with the first image that. Uh that you see now on your screen, i thought it would be. Helpful for us to begin here this is a work of art that i've been, thinking about from, from a certain distance, over the course of the summer. Um, and and i think it we can use it to. Get. At once to the possibilities. That. Some of our new technologies. Offer in understanding, works of art. As well as to some of the limitations. And, i want to start, with suggesting. Actually. A real limitation. And that is that there is something. Visceral. When you see a work of art, um that i experienced, very strongly, when i first saw and subsequently. Every time i see this particular, object. I'm, i'm a specialist. In manuscript, illumination. And goldsmith's, work, so. I was, kind of. Astounded, by myself. When i first saw this. Very masculine. Painted, wood box, and how i responded. To it. It gets inside, your head a great work of art that it's almost like a love affair. And that's something, that. Only, gets communicated. Fully when you are in the presence, of. Of a great work of art. But, yet. With this object, i've been able to, bring it to the attention of our audiences, in ways that. I, couldn't, through our, through just having it be in our gallery so let me tell you something about that. First of all, this piece was uh beautifully, published in the burlington, magazine. Before, we received, it on loan from the uh, from the collection, of. Of sir paul ruddick. Um. But. What i can tell you about it is that. That, burlington. Publication. Didn't. In any way. Communicate. The, power that is inherent, in this art.
And So. Uh what, we needed were some other ways to find that. We started off by simply, having it be. Featured, in a family, program. That we did. Years ago, at the cloisters, where we talked about the legend. Of, uh. Sir william, of orange, and how that legend, is uh. Represented. Here. I then. Actually read parts of that legend, at a gathering, of patrons, of the museum. But that too. Met a very limited. Audience. And the burlington, magazine, as much as we might love it and as good as that article, was. Reaches, a certain. Kind of pre-chosen. Audience, so so what did we do to bring this work of art to life, okay could you show me the next slide please. We use the cloister's, blog, to. Represent, the relationship, between, this, object, and the cloister. Of sangiom. Guillaum. Being both the, knight represented, on the box and subsequently, the saint. Represented. Uh in. In our cloister. Um. A foundational. Uh part of the building of the cloisters. And this allowed. Me, as an author to get to some of the colorful. Aspects, of this box, that really would not be appropriate, to a scholarly, article right to talk about the. Joyful. And funny, uh. Aspects, of the of the legend that come through. Next please. I did that twice. First with, that one called founding father and then this one called, french, toast. Um which is, a kind of salute to the story, of sangeem. And to get to the exuberance. Of medieval, art that, i think is not people's. General, understanding. Of it right when you look at our cloister, it has this kind of, sober. Aspect. But when you look at, the, object, itself. You can see that there's a kind of joyousness. To it could i have the next slide please. And i used that, to actually then go on and talk about, the relationship. Even between the story of sengium. And wines, from the region still today and to link those. To the medieval, period this is something i could never do in a scholarly, article, right and so we had a photograph. Of the wine that we were actually, pouring, that summer in the cloisters, cafe, which comes from that region. And has done since, the medieval, period and that bears the name guillaume, still. And then it allowed, me to, to. Put in some of the text that talked about those things, and you see that, um. The troubadour. Guillaume. The 9th. I've. Talked about a dinner in which and i was quoting from it the bread was white and the wine was good and the pepper, thick, this gets to actually, a personal thing of mine but it finally admitted like you know what i actually. Prefer. A good, white bread, to. Many things that are much healthier, for me so there was a kind of fun, that we could bring in. In talking about this next slide please, and at the same time. We could show. Our own, kind of seriousness, of purpose, by including, in that blog post some, for the references, for, further, reading. Next slide please. This summer, i've been preparing. Some text, about this coffered. Which will be part of us an online, series that we do at the metropolitan. Met collects because this is now a promise, gift to the metropolitan. And, here, i can do something that i also can't do very well in the gallery and that is to show extraordinary. Details. That you, wouldn't see unless you had the privilege, of holding this in your hands, do you see those, gray. Arrows. That are piercing. The, um. The flesh, and piercing, the shields, of the men at battle and the intensity, of their gaze, we can see that here in a way, that is, tricky, to see in the gallery. Next. Please. And just further, to that, we can show a detail, like this that shows. Uh, the beauty of these, dappled, horses do you see their beautiful. Pink spots, and their black spots that took, sort of, again, evokes, the. Kind of, wonder. In nature. And the appreciation. Of horses, that you, have. Witnessed in the middle ages but there's something else going on here too. This, uh, confrontation. This. Fight between. These, two knights is something, extraordinary. And if you look closely. You will see that at the right, that not only is the shield. Uh differentiated. From the shield at the left, but that we have presented, to us now, a, competition. Between a christian night at the left, and a moorish, night, uh, shown with dark skin, at the right, and it allows, us with this kind of. Detail. This kind of photographic, image to talk about, what that means about, uh that. Long, history. That underlies. Uh, issues, of. Uh both, religious. Prejudice. And racism. That, still, confront, us today. So um. I. Love what this particular. Object. Has allowed, me to do to expand, the kinds of conversations. That i have, with the, public. I'll pass it back to you kate. Okay thank you very much. Thank you barbara so now we will turn to, iob, dorillo. Thank you very much that was a, very nice introduction. Um. So i was working, at the bridge library now for. Well i'm still working there for about. Five years, uh pretty much working. With. The. Ethiopian, collection. Uh, the collection. Forms. Part of the foundation, collection, of the british.
Of The british museum, manuscript, collection. So, um, in 2018. I, had this opportunity. To. Put an exhibition, together for the first time. Um, on the ethiopian manuscript, collection. And the objective. Of this exhibition. Was. Threefold. First. To. Highlight, the ethiopian, collection, which. Didn't have that much, um. Exposure, before, outside, of the, scholarly, or academic. Circle. And then the second objective was also. To. Not celebrate. But to sort of acknowledge. How the main part of the. Library's collection of manuscript, came into being which was after, a punitive, expedition, of. Of uh of 1868. Um, and then the third point was also, to, highlight. Uh. A digitalization. Project that we, we started around, 2017. To digitize. Um. Some 300, ethiopian manuscript. So. He. It was a, like i said it was the first time that we, did, an exhibition. Entirely, devoted to an ethiopian, manuscript. But it was also a way, of. For me personally. Highlighting. The close. Connection, between. Western. Or medieval. Manuscript, tradition, in ethiopia, so i was very. Careful, to select, items, that wouldn't. Um. You know alienate, those who were not familiar, with. Ethiopian, studies, so for example the first manuscript, that were that was on display. Um were the 13th, century. Homely. And, of martyrs, which was actually directly, translated. From, possibly, a greek or a syriac, source. Um, and it was interesting to display that because in the british library we also have, uh, the martyr. Books, and, the latin version. And, juxtaposing. Both for me, uh, and seeing the engagement, of visitors, i found that very interesting. And i was also able. To easily, explain, to them the similarities. And and. And, the differences. Um, and then the second, point. Of the exhibition, again. The manuscript, that we were digitizing. Um, it was very difficult to to, firstly, select. The items, because uh at one side we. You know we knew that. We had to give access, to. Ethiopian, scholars, who. Were particularly. Interested, in the mcdella manuscript. So the mcdollar manuscript. Was, the highlight of this exhibition, which were. Uh acquired, in. 1868. And as you can see, from this slide, um, i really loved, the display, uh although, i didn't like the color, first, so when the exhibition, team came up with the color i was. Really, not happy but i. In the end i really liked it because it appealed to children, as well. Uh so this, the display, case, had, uh three four feet the themes. The first was text, so manuscripts, dating from 13th, century to the 15th century. And the second was the art so illuminated. Manuscripts, and in that we have some, really beautiful. Uh. Illuminated, manuscript, royal, you deluxe. Like bling manuscripts. To show to. Our visitors, and then the fourth case. Uh, focused, on the book as an object, um this was also another message that i wanted to send that um, this manuscripts, are not are not. Just text carriers, they're also devotional, books so the way you handle a manuscript, the way you. Uh place a manuscript, in the church, you know you'd kiss a manuscript, you bow down to it, there's a lot of reverence to that so i wanted to get that across and then finally. Uh, to sort of also talk about the intellectual, contribution. Of the scribes, and. Honoring, the uh their their their works. Uh, as you can see in the second, slide. This was, one of the first manuscripts. That, um. We digitized.
It's A huge manuscript. Um it's a 15 it's a 14. 15th, century. Altitude. Uh, so that's the the first 10. Books, um. From from starting from genesis. Uh, i think up to root. And. It generated. So much interest. Uh. In terms of not just the scholars, but the public out there firstly. Um our general audience were not like i said familiar, with ethiopia, so even associating, christianity. I've had some i had some interesting, questions. Um. And then on the other side, people, sort of said why didn't you have. Illuminated, manuscript, as opposed to text. Um for me. The script, the text. Is also. Uh, you know i'm, i'm in love with the scripts, quite a lot data pick. The philology. The. The warehouse, written the way it has changed. And. Sharing the the writing. Again the pre you know the misconception. That after that as a writing system. You know. As well so i wanted to kind of. Highlight, that. And, you know going, into lockdown. To date now we have 304. Manuscripts, so at that time. You know, we, it was a great opportunity. Now that i'm able. Uh you know i don't have to go into work. So it's become a great opportunity. To just, go through them, and, use them, and, and look at them and finally, this this image i just want to share with you this one of my favorite manuscripts, which is. Uh, the. Nagara, maryam which is. Roughly translate, the history of mary it's a fifth century. Originally, composed. In, the coptic, work. Uh but we have several manuscripts, that are. Beautifully, illuminated, and this and this manuscript, really. Uh is, is one of the. The best. Uh, to be displayed, uh thank you. Thank you ayob. Um. So if you can uh yeah there you go thank you very much, okay announcer, paul if you'd like to say a few words. Thanks kate we might wonder why i'm on because i'm obviously not a specialist, i'm uh, i'm an amateur. But i've been very involved as kate said with museums, now for. 25, 30 years. The v a the british museum, the met, and that really started, out because as a child i grew up in. The midlands, in england. But i got taken to national trust houses by my parents, into museums. We grew up about a mile and a half, down the road from a wonderful. Medieval. Moated, manor house, and i think it was the romance, of the middle ages that uh. I was instilled, with really from. A very young age, and. My parents bought me a copy of a 12th century chess at the lewis chess set for my eighth birthday, so i, learned to play chess on that. So from a very early age i've been sort of excited, by. The middle ages in particular. Um. But i think, today. Museums, are particularly, challenging, i think that's why it's relevant we're having this conversation. In a world where you actually can't visit, a museum you can't see the objects. Uh you do, have to rely on other technologies, and. Just think about what we're doing now the zoom conversation, we couldn't have even done this three or four years ago. So it's extraordinary, the advances. That technology, has made. And i think barbara is absolutely right you can't take away the magic. Of the, unique object and there is something still quite. Awe-inspiring. About going in and seeing a great work of art for the first time. And in fact just before we locked down again in england we locked down again today. There were a couple of shows that my wife and i went to one was a show on, kimonos. At the vna, and another was a show on the arctic of the british museum. And it was like a novelty, going back in and seeing. Wonderful. Artifacts. And designs. And digital, at the moment isn't really a replacement, for that. But it may become so through as as vr and ar becomes better, we will see. But i think. The other thing that fascinates, me about the museum world and how, technology, can also bring this to life is cross-cultural. Connections. Um. Some of the things that are in the show at, bowdoin for example, there is a little diptych. Which has. An ethiopian, eye compared, with a cretan, icon. Of about 1450. And ethiopian, art was very influenced. By the byzantine. World. Secondly, there is quite a lot of work from the so-called migration, periods of the huns the visigoths, the obstacles. A period from really the, late 4th century to about the 7th century and what you can see there, as well as how even.
1500. Years ago fashions. Migrated. Over. Thousands, of miles. And styles. Which might pop up around the black sea were then being adopted. In anglo-saxon. England. So. What is interesting i think is using technology, to identify. Sources and materials, you can identify, where the garnets, come from, you can identify. The the sources of the gold and the silver. And also, as i think it's been shown again for the wonderful catalogue, that bowdoin has produced to go along with the exhibition. You can actually. See through, things like uh you know, x-ray analysis. Much more clearly, the skill, of the craftsmen, who made these objects so i think it's. Very interesting in sense what, technology, can bring to bear, and also in terms of veracity. Using things like carbon, 14, dating, thermal luminescence. Analysis. Uh. Silver or metal. Composition, analysis. These are things which are very difficult to do even. 30 years ago, and today they're becoming, uh much more accurate, uh, the databases. That we can refer to are much. Broader. And, uh this helps again. Museums, collectors, etc. Have confidence. In, the objects that are within the collections, but also, to understand, the changes those objects have gone through, over the centuries, where there may have been, adaptations. Alterations. Repairs, and so on so i think technology. Is increasingly. Uh playing an important role the final thing i'll say maybe we'll get through to this in the uh in the. Uh the discussion. Is i think, the quality of 3d, replication. Has, improved. Uh exponentially. Over the last five to ten years with 3d printing and scanning. And that is a way, that you may not be able to substitute. A replica. For the. Original. But you can certainly. Share. That original, in replica, form with a vastly, greater audience, than if it is just sitting in one place and i think maybe we can discuss that a bit later. So thanks kate, back to you. Thank you, thank you sir paul so i'm going to turn things over to sean berths, and he will. Lead us in a discussion, of some of these issues and then as i said before at the end we will have a few minutes left over, for, some questions from the audience, which you can ask through the q a feature. Sean. Absolutely, thanks kate. And thank you to all our panelists, for joining us, virtually, today.
And For sharing. Those introductory. Remarks. I know we'll be revisiting, many of the ideas that have already come up, throughout the course of this discussion. I've been looking forward to this discussion, quite a bit so i want to dive right in, and i want to begin with a question. That i think many of us are wrestling, with at the moment. As sir paul you already alluded to. Access to museums, across the whole world has been restricted. For over half a year now. And, um, so i wonder, um, what is the difference, between, encountering. Art in person, in the galleries. Whether the galleries, of the british library, or. The bowdoin college museum, of art, and encountering, art virtually. And i wonder how you would each characterize. That difference. Um, what opportunities. Have you been observing. Uh. That uh accompany, digital encounters, with art um and what have you found that's, missing, when we're looking at medieval, art online. Can i make a stab at that show, absolutely. Right so i think one of the things you miss right off the bat, is scale. You've no idea if something is one inch high, or six feet high. And. That i think is something. That is always surprising, when you see objects in the flesh so again if you look at the exhibition. You have on at the moment. You have a, miraculous. Little. Boxwood, prayer nut which is just over an inch in diameter. But you could blow it up and it could be 10 feet high on a screen and still look fantastic. Likewise, you, you've got stone sculptures, in the exhibition, that are four or five feet high. But you can't tell whether, six inches or six feet high on the screen so firstly you miss that scale. And secondly. There is something also that you you you miss there is there is a like a visceral, resonance, which is almost, programmed, into our dna. When you see an object in the flesh, and some of that goes to the patina. Of the object which. You can't get on the screen. Somebody goes to the smell, i mean if you go around an old. Church, the. Centuries, of incense. And some of it is just the hairs on the back of your neck i don't know whether you've experienced, it but i do from time to time when you see a fantastic, work of art, you feel the hairs the back of your neck. Uh go up as is in the same way you might if, there's danger approaching, it's excitement. And uh. To my mind did you did you cannot, yet. Create those experiences. Though as i said it may do with the speed of which um. Vr, is is progressing. Barbara i think that goes to something that you already began to observe, i think you used the term love affair, uh for looking at art i wonder if you want to expand on that. Though. That's absolutely, right and what sir paul said about. Hairs on the back of the neck sometimes, they'll, a great work of art would just bring me to tears, i can't. Stop it. But i i think we can make an analogy, here. My. Family is obsessed, with watching, cooking shows, they watch gordon, ramsay. Write, these things and you see these a lot where, back in the day was julia child right and you see these elaborate. Preparations. Of, meals and you come to understand, more about the ingredients. And where they come from and how they're combined. At the end of the meal at the end of the program though you don't get to eat the food. And you can't you don't get to smell it's just what paul was saying and and there is i think an analogy, here, um, you know you you also eat with your eyes.
Absolutely. Ayo, i noticed in in your introductory, remarks you already brought up the way that the manuscripts. Um traditionally. Um, were the subjects, of, of great veneration, you would kiss the books and and so on and so forth, which goes again maybe to some of that question of a love affair with objects. But i'm really interested to hear your thoughts about this because, your, uh comments brought to, my mind the fact that already, when we're encountering, these objects, in the museum, context. We're, we're encountering, them in a new context. Then they were historically. Um. Exposed, so it i'd be interested to hear your thoughts on the virtual. And in-person, encounter. So what i mean the digital. Encounter. Is obviously, the advantage, is is as vast as uh, sir paul and barbara. Highlighted. Um, so, when i'm doing my research, phd i have to look at you know different manuscripts, for. A critical edition, on producing, so you know in. From my bedroom, i can look at three you know five six manuscripts, at the same time you know i can zoom in, and. Do all sorts of things you know, cut and paste etc. And. The. You know the other advantage. For us, uh in the muse, in the british library, is that. The durability. Of the, object. You know it lasts long so it's great for conservation. Uh, there's so much advantage, to it. However. You know, as a researcher, or someone who loves. Art or understands. Art. The only way you can. Make, um. Sense or meaning, or understanding. Of the object. Is. Is having. Through, having a sensory. Engagement. With, the material. Uh you know that way you learn, about. The attributes, of the master, of the manuscript, you know through physical, encounter, i.e. Just looking at it. Uh. You know touching. And of course smell, uh, you know for ethiopian, manuscript, smell is so important because. Parchment. Retains. The smell so you know i have. I've opened a manuscript, once which last time was seen, something like, 1940s. By one scholar and since then it just remained on the box and when i opened it, the fragrance, the frankincense. From the smell i could just say to you. You know i could tell you whether that manuscript, belonged, uh, in a. Church. Or, a monastery. Or if it's a, salter, owned by a monk the smell you know if it's a salter.
You Have the spice. The, fire, smoke because it's in the house. So there's so much in terms of. Physically. You know they generate. A sense of really coming close, to the past. Uh. You feel. That those objects, like, again like sir paul said, they they prompt strong reaction. Either surprise. Shock. They do. Evoke. Those emotions, and, you know luckily. I'm going to get carried away guys because i was allowed to work, in the, to go into the library so i had. Yesterday i was in the archives. Half of from one o'clock to four o'clock by myself. And since the lockdown. You know i was just working with digitized. Images, but to physically, be in the archive, by myself, pick up a manuscript. And. Just smell it and look at it it was. You know it's another way of experiencing. Uh, the book i think i'll stop here. But i think i think just to come on to that and sean what i am saying, manuscripts, are particularly interesting because you also can't tell digitally. Really about the. This you can tell about the quality of the script but not the necessary. The. Value, to the. Commissioner. So, in your exhibition, you've got one. Manuscript, which was created, for in, 1399. For the. Uh the chamberlain, of the uh. The duke de berry the the, the you know the brother of the the king of france. And, the vellum. Is so, thin it's almost like tracing, paper. And the, the. Value, of that would have been. Hundreds, of times that, of something that was just made for, a monk, in the, monastery. But also the skill, to be able to. Illuminate, that was extraordinary. And again that is something that the digital. Can't replicate, at all, uh. And i and i think you you see that again you're understanding, how objects were made. Uh, sculptures, etc. Uh. Again you need to really look at these very close-ups, so, the the microscopic. Imagery, we can get in digital, is very helpful. But you sometimes. Miss the bigger picture. It's very interesting you've all sort of, posited, a number, of, of things that we're missing when we encounter, digital. Along the lines, of, the physical, or material, the tactile. Aspects, but also the emotional, and the spiritual, valences, of art, so maybe we can talk in the back of our our minds, for, to to end on a note of of of where. We see the digital going and whether there's some, any promise of overcoming, those gaps. Um but i want to move on, um, to an another, question. Uh, it's often said today, that uh everyone's, a curator. Whether we're using, smartphones. In exhibitions. Or we're using instagram. Facebook, or pinterest, to consume, images. And to curate our lives. We're living in an era where access to art is increasingly. Democratized. So my question, for the panel. Is in this climate, of of democratization.
What Role is there for cultural, institutions. Like museums, and libraries. Not only, as depa, as repositories. Of great collections. But as repositories. Of expertise. About art as. Well. Okay, i'll take us, so so, all right i i disagree, that uh. Everyone's, a curator, i mean it's, you know, uh. Um no disrespect. Yes there are. Great people out there posting. You know amazing, images, on instagram. Facebook. With great knowledge, um, you know they they. They do this. Uh, but be you know curating. Especially. I can't speak for museums, but working, in, in in the british library. It's not just about posting images. Or looking at. Images. And there is the assumption, that. Museum, curators. Are people who just display, beautiful, objects that's their job you know, other than being awkward. You know their job is just displaying. There's so much to it this is just a fraction. Uh, of the job um, you know you know as, a curator, someone that's worked with the ethiopian, collection, for a long time. Um. You know my, sort of core priorities. Is this is quite a lot not easy you know to maintain, develop. The printed collection the manuscript, collection, safeguard. Preservation. Conservation. Yeah, you know and then, most importantly. Making, this. Items, accessible. This is really the real challenge. You know to the public, uh. Not just to the ethiopian. Um. Scholars. So and on top of this you know each activities, i just listed. They. Also, present. Like their own problem, unique. Yeah, unique problem. Uh. And it's also dealing with these challenges. You know. When you set up an exhibition. Or you display an item, you have to appeal to people you have to take people's advice it's not you know sometimes as a curator, you don't make the decisions. Uh there's. Colleagues. Teams that make the decision so there's quite. A lot, um, obviously, the biggest challenge. For me is making. The ethiopian, collection, more accessible. So. Curation, is a profession. That's what i just wanted to say maybe barbara, is a museum. Profession, you can. Give us your food. Well um, for my birthday, recently. I was given a month by month. Selection. Of. Carefully, curated, chocolates. You know it used to be that when people would ask me what i do and i said i was a museum curator they would say what's that, now, now, as you say you can curate everything, in, including, chocolates which by the way. Are quite wonderful, but, uh i i think the point that you made, is really an important one and um. I can use an example from my own recent experience. Uh, last year, at the cloisters, we mounted an exhibition, about the komar, treasure. Um. The komar, treasure. Consists, of a find, of. Mostly, jewelry, uh, some coins, that uh, were excavated. Uh in the, 19th, century, quite by chance and that in fact reflect, the, jewish community, of komar. On the eve of the black death. And. Just to give a little bit of of the inflection. That is possible. When you work as a curator. So in the previous, exhibitions. Of that material. They'd, actually been referred to, as treasures, of the black death. I felt very strongly, that that gave. The storyline. To the disease. And not to the community, that had created them and so, i. Switched, it around for the show for our show. And referred to it as the colmar treasure, a medieval, jewish. Legacy. I wanted to get at the notion, of. What. Was medieval, europe and was it in fact. The homogenous. Uh. The homogenous, society, that some people imagine this homogeneous, christian society. On the contrary. Right so just to take that particular, example, and bring to life bring back to life this particular. Uh, jewish community, that was resident, in that. Part of alzas. Then i got a letter from a man who's a doctor, living on fifth avenue, and he said to me you know i don't understand. This notion, of the komar, treasure if you talk if you ask me it looks like chachkas. But he. Couldn't, understand. The notion, of, treasure, that didn't involve. You know a diamond the size of the coin or diamond. Um, but what my job was to was to try to have people understand, the notion of treasure, as the preservation. Of culture. As the preservation. Of a legacy, of a particular. People's, in a particular, place and and what their aesthetic, sensibilities. And i think i think sean, barbara. Has nailed it because, malcolm gladwell, said that you can't really become an expert, at something without spending ten thousand hours doing it, and of course anybody. Can curate. In the same way anybody can play the piano, doesn't mean they're going to play the piano like liberace. And. To sing barbara's, praises, one of the, seminal, shows. In my education, about medieval, art was the show the barbara curated, in 1997. At the met, on le moe's romanesque, anomaly. Which just blew me away. And. That was based on, huge amounts of research, and knowledge and i think, the role of museums, and of curators. Is to keep on, uh adding to our knowledge, about.
These Former civilizations. So of course anybody, can curate. You can put together a list of pretty. Objects, and and put them on display, but the role of the curators, both barbara and airport said, is much more than that it's about preservation, it's about putting in context. It's about, deep knowledge, it's about working with source communities, about their understanding, of the objects, how those objects, fitted into, the societies, for which they were made originally. It's a very, multi-layered. Complex, story. And, great curators. Bring that story to life and share it with them with the public. And it's not an easy, role and it's something that takes, many many years of, hard work and learning. Let's i want to pick up on that that question of storytelling. Uh really quick i i think in a way you all nailed it um. Uh, and and and answered the question, brilliantly, for us but to focus on the question of storytelling. I wonder what you all think is the role of traditional, museum, strategies. Like publications, and exhibitions. In the current era and how do we see those strategies. Changing, as, cultural, institutions, are share are exploring, new avenues, of communication. In order to connect with the public, and share medieval, art and our knowledge about medieval, art. Look the amazing, thing is now you can connect. Theoretically. With billions, of people around the world which you could not have done. In the pre-digital. Age where people particularly at bowden you have to come up to brunswick, and physically visit the museum. So that is that is an amazing. Opportunity. And it's amazing, opportunity. To. Build. You know symposia, with experts, around the world so, you know if you look at this. Barbara's, in new york maybe she's in new jersey at the moment, you know i have and i are in london. Uh you're in brunswick. That. That's amazing, so i think that. Museums. Can reach out to a much greater audience. Uh. And you just got to be be selected because of course, every museum is doing that so you've got to make sure that it's interesting and it's relevant. And. And and, take feedback, from from those audiences, as to how to improve it. I think. I think there i have to also add. Uh, yeah i think i agree with sir paul that you do have to take, a short, advantage. Of this, new. Um, you know technology. And then, you know provide. Uh. Cultural institutions. To have more reach, reach out for more, and. You know make again going back, to making this, the objects. Uh, available. But, in my case when i'm working with the european manuscript, um. When singapore, compared, the crit, the creek, icon with ethiopia. In terms of manuscript, there are so much strong similarities. Between europe you know european, manuscripts. And ethiopian, manuscripts, that sometimes you know i look at the book of chaos. And then i look at. One of our. Ethiopian, 15th century manuscripts. The patterns, that there's so much similarity. And this is where. It is also crucial, for, us working in museum, to provide. A. Context. About the history of these items. And more broadly, about. The history of the interaction. Whether, if there was possibly. Uh. An interaction. With. With other nations. So. When we're digitizing. Cataloging. It's crucial that we also. Highlight. Those possible, interactions, and there was interaction. I mean. Uh, ethiopian, manuscripts. You know reached, europe. Well probably before the 14th, century. So making those connection, and bringing. Context. For me it's it's, it's really important. I think i would just add that the same object, can tell a multitude, of stories. Uh, and and that's. Part of what i was trying to suggest, about the coffer that i showed at the beginning, right. When we'd. When we had. Uniquely. Our cloistered, to tell the story. Uh that's a certain chapter. In the. Life of. Sangiem. Which. Is, utterly, different, from the story. That is told, by the painted box about his. Earlier, more militaristic. Past. Um, and, even just taking the same object and moving it around, it, always astounds me how i. See things differently, when i. Change the gallery that they're in or, juxtapose, them to something else. Thank you all very much that's, fascinating. So i want to note that i have one last question for the panelists. And then we're going to turn to our audience, to continue, the q a. For those of you watching along at home, if you have any burning questions, now would be a good time to enter them in using the q a feature on your screen. The questions you enter will be visible only to those of us on the panel, and not to your, fellow attendees. So, for the panel, and actually, uh returning, and picking up on a thread, in some ways. Um. As we're observing, all of these new multiple, ways of telling stories about the same objects, and connecting, with, uh, more and more audience.
In This era of expanded, and democratized. Access. We've also all seen, renewed, and often quite welcome, public attention, to some of the more difficult, or challenging, questions, in our field of medieval art history. From issues of cultural heritage, to legacies, of cultural, conflicts. So my question is, as we are reaching larger, audiences. Expanding, our reach and taking advantage, of these new platforms. How can, cultural, institutions, not only take advantage, of those. But also, really responsibly. Share medieval, objects, and their very complex, histories. Barbara, you already alluded, to some of this a little bit with the komar. The colemar, treasures, um, i i wonder if you want to start us off. Um. Sure, i, i've been thinking of it. Almost all the time, these days right because, everything. Everything about our current world, is. Is so. Present. Uh. And not in easy ways, i would say. So you don't find yourself only thinking about the black death. Uh which is of course a temptation. When in the middle of the, cove. Circumstance. But i find myself, thinking about. The moorish, night, um. In, on the back of our cockpit. I find myself, actually, also thinking about, uh, we, are currently. We're currently restoring, our tapestry, of king arthur, and i find myself thinking about. What is the understanding. Of, the role of a hero. In our day. Who qualifies, as a hero. What do you have to be. It's similar to the question about what. What is a saint but how do you how do you. What makes a secular, hero. Um and i think that the trick, when you're, looking at, a historical. Object is not to. Collapse. History, you have to be careful not to collapse, it and say that everything is exactly, the same. But to somehow, allow. Things, uh, historical. To, inform. Our wider. Sense, of, i guess what you might call the human dilemma. Which we can see. So. So, beautifully, in works of art, sometimes. I think that's right i think that these much broader, cultural stories, so, you know if i just do a romp through the, 14th, 15th and 16th, century. There was a massive, change, in the 14th, century because of the black, death, where coming out of it, society. Became very exuberant. And rather. Extravagant. In in its tastes, and its art. It's very interesting to see. Why that might have been maybe because people viewed life as, fragile, and short and they just wanted to. To uh, you know have a good time if you look at the changes. Which the renaissance. Brought. To northern europe around, 15, 20 15 30., you see a shift again two objects, in the. In the exhibition, one is a limoge, painted enamel around. 1500. Showing the virgin and child. And the other is, a limousine, animal maybe 30 40 years later which is a classical, scene of, young cupid's, plane called youth. And that. Had as much to do with what was going on in italy, and taste. But it also had to do with the reformation. And. The, diminution. Of the veneration, of idols, because, of, lutheranism. And calvinism, and so on so i think there are just much more complex, stories you can tell around these objects. Which reflect, in. Reflected, today in many ways. With the uh the battle between, secularism.
And Religion which you're seeing going on in many parts of the world. And and also, the the uh, the economic, challenges, that much of the world face you can reference, those. By what we see in the arts. Of the middle, ages. Well i'm. We're currently, at the, the library, where, um. Sort of writing, a new. Web, not the web page but um. Collection, guys so we're updating, it, one of the things we're doing is we're trying to sort of. Um, explain, about the provenance, of our collection. Uh you know the story. And again what, what i was saying, before, was. Providing. You know a context. To this to the history of this item. Uh, but also more broadly about. The interaction, between the different nations, that had these objects, the exchange. Um. You know so so, looking, at. Uh, one one particular, interesting, example is at the british library. The earliest, or the first two early manuscripts, are part of the harley collection. So this is the foundation, collection of the british museum so hardly, gave his, latin, manuscript, and. Uh hebrew manuscript. Among them, there are two beautiful. Uh. Prayer books, one, for mary and i think it's a 15th, century. And i've always been, really fascinated. How harley got those items in his collection, and so far i mean. You know, harley has his people have written, quite a lot on on his other collection, but not so much. Um, on this on late open collection actually actually nothing exists, other than, the the, the catalog. Entry. So, using the object. To also talk about the tests. In europe at the time what interested, them about ethiopian, manuscripts you know it didn't start today or it didn't start, with. A punitive, expedition. Loot it started. Earlier. Like i said, like in the 14th, century, where. Um, you had travelers, coming back. Uh. As, scholars, who were actually. Mostly theologians. Who were actually looking for, lost. Early biblical, work. And. Yeah through, you know through this. Providing, this context, and i i think. Our audience would really find that interesting. Not just knowing. What the object. Is about but also. Knowing. Its history, and its interaction, between. These different nations. Yeah, that's fascinating, thank you all very much, so we have time now uh to take a few questions from the audience, and our q a is filling up and there are some really great questions, in there, so i'm going to invite uh, kate to join us again, and, um help uh, introduce, some of the audience, questions. Thank you sean, um and thanks again to our panelists, it was really lovely to have a chance to hear your thoughts on these questions. Um, so we have one question to start off with, do you think some categories, of objects. That is reliquaries, versus manuscripts, versus paintings. Resist, digitization. More than others in other words uh do you think some object types it matters more to see them in person. Than for other. Types. Well i i. I'm hoping to have more manuscripts, digitized. In. 2021. Uh. But in terms of manuscripts. In terms of i mean ethiopian. Election. In europe. Manuscripts. Have have received, more. Digital, attention, i guess you could say digitized. They've been. There's quite a few people working. But in terms of museum, collection. They've been really neglected, i haven't seen any, um. Anything new happening, in in in the british museum, so. Uh, i think yeah people are probably favoring, manuscripts. More than. Other historical, objects. There is a change though um. You know i've been quite involved with a group called factomate. Who operate out of madrid. Who have been who have really pioneered. High-res. Uh digital, scanning, and, digital printing. So for example they've made replicas, of some of the destroyed, monuments, in iraq, which are. Almost, um. Interchangeable. With, with what the originals would have been. You don't get that patina, of smell that i talked about and. And as well but. Digital, replication. Now is getting, unbelievably. Accurate, to the. The degree you can actually get the same weathering, and, uh you know coloring, and and so on so i i do think it's an area which is interesting i've been pushing it as an area to, travel.
Fragile. Treasures. To places, where you would not otherwise take them away, places where you have conservational. Security, issues. So i think, we started with digital, primarily, in things like manuscripts. And and images, but i think it is moving very rapidly, into. Three-dimensional. Objects, as well and i think that's, has huge potential, for museums, in terms of outreach and education. To travel, objects. To a much broader audience, when you can't take the originals, because of either conservational. Security, issues. So another question. Now i just wanted to also say because what, when the airport said about travel. The other. Big issue as well that we have is also the technological. Divide. Um, you know in the case of africa. Where you have no almost no access to internet. That, also you know presents. Really difficult, challenges, for, for for museums, as well uh i mean in the case of you know students you know desato, university. They're constantly, emailing, me asking me if i can send them, a pdf, copy of a manuscript. And. You know i can't i can't you know not. Obviously i can't create the pdf, but this is because they don't really have um they don't have internet. Connection. So sometimes, there is, uh. You know there's all sort of disadvantage. To what we what you know what we're doing as well. It actually relates a little bit to the next question. Um, i'll just quickly summarize, it you know we've been talking a lot about using digital, tools. To bring these works outside of the museum. But do you see room, in the galleries, for some of these tools is there a way that digital, technologies. Can. Enhance, the experience, of visitors, who are actually in the museum. Space. They can, i think our experience. Sorry bob i'll just make one point, is it changes so rapidly. That. It's very very expensive, for museums, to do that, and if you have it in permanent, displays. You find that, when it breaks. After a year or two so. I think it's problematic. And. Barbara will talk to her experience where she has used it, but i think it's uh. In a perfect world yes, but the reality, is if you do it in a substandard. World, way give because of lack of funds. Given how use, people are to seeing hollywood, type productions. One's got to be a little careful, that it detracts, from the magic of the real objects. Uh. Thanks, i i. I would point to two things. One is that. Most people. Are actually, more comfortable. Looking at, digital, representations. Or photographic, reproductions. Than they are looking at original works of art. So. What i've observed, sometimes. For example, in a manuscript, exhibition, if you have, the open book, and next to it the. Uh. Illuminated. Lit up. Page, that you can't see. People will look at the pages they can't see because they're used to looking at things on screens. And then they will just keep walking they won't look at the real, work of art and that i think is something to be really alert to because. Our, job is to make sure people, experience. The real work of art, i would. Bring up a specific. Example of this kate you have a slide. Of what we did with the boxwood. Pieces, when they were at the cloisters, and you have. In the wyvern collection, uh, exhibition. Now at bowden you have one of these, tiny, tiny prayer beads right you look at the diameter. Of the thing it's, it's under. 2 inches right 4.8, centimeters. People are fascinated. By, this. Tiny, world that you can tumble, into when you look at these works of art, and that's. Uh, we wanted to sort of get the mystery, of that, in the exhibition, and then there was in toronto. At the first. Uh iteration, of the exhibition, a. Virtuality. Uh experience, the vr, experience, and i was very resistant, to it. Until they offered to do it for us for free. Um, and. And and with the added, information, that a group of nuns, had come to the exhibition, in toronto. And proclaimed, it to be a highly spiritual, experience, i thought well it's not for me to say that, it's inappropriate, if the nuns think it was highly spiritual, so, we did do it at the cloisters, but we did it as education, programming, so we didn't, juxtapose. It in the gallery to the original works of art we set up specific, days and times. When you could participate. In this, um and that. And it was in a different. Part of the building so you then were to travel, you had to travel, from the exhibition, to this.
Other Location, where you could, do this kind of dive. Into, the. Object, itself and what you're seeing on the screen. Uh, is in fact a franciscan, brother, uh having this particular, experience he's dressed in black he wasn't in his uh, official. Gear but that it gives you, it was really, for many people a very special, kind of experience, so, i think yes it can work, but you have to be. Um. Alert to those, kind of uh caveats. Eight i would say that one of the areas it does really help is qr, codes. And it's gradually, as museums, are able to put qr, codes on all their objects. Instead of you you can then have a simple label but then you can get a lot more information. By, by, you know. Scanning the qr code into your. Handheld, phone or what have you so i think it is, for people that are really interested. It is a way that they can learn a lot more the danger of course is they end up walking around the museum looking at their phone not looking at the objects, so it's trying to balance those, that attention. Well, on that note of of balance. And also barbara, i love hearing that story about the nuns because that brings us full circle to that question of the spiritual. And the um. Visceral, experience. Um i'm afraid, that we have uh run out of time and have to wrap up. But i want to thank each of you, um, barbara, iob. And, sir paul for joining us today, kate it's been a pleasure to work with you and your students on this exhibition. And i've really enjoyed this conversation. That um, if only we had another hour to continue. But uh, thank you all for joining us and thank you to the audience, as well. Thank you everyone, it's been wonderful thank you. Thanks, see. You.