Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Guest Blog by Professor Andrew Nelson: On the Road with SA in the UK (Part 1)

Interested in how research projects and collaborations are established and executed? Be sure to follow the next few blog posts contributed by Professor Andrew Nelson, SA Research Associate. Andrew shares the details of a research project still in its infancy.

Sustainable Archaeology (SA) and Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO) are collaborating on an research project focused on late Medieval/early Renaissance prayer beads in the Thomson Collection at the AGO.  These beads are devotional objects carved from boxwood that date to the first-half of the 16th century. See Codart Ezine and the AGO blog Art Matters (both previously featured in this blog) for some of the work that’s already been done!  Curators and researchers have identified about 135 of these beads in collections in Europe and North America.

This projects focuses on the cultural context of these devotional objects, their collection history as well as technical aspects of their construction… that’s where the SA comes in.  In 2012, the AGO first visited SA: Western to undertake microCT scans of 3 prayer beads in the Thomson Collection (you can go back to that blog post, here).  We confirmed that the beads are very complex constructions, with major and minor components – they are works of technical virtuosity (see the AGO's video clip of one of the scanned prayer beads here). Since those first scans, we have now scanned all the beads in the AGO’s collection, three additional beads from a private collection, and we’re now branching out to do more!

… and that brings us to London, UK. 
The Team – Lisa Ellis is a Conservator of Sculpture and Decorative Arts at Art Gallery of Ontario.  Sasha Suda is the Associate Curator of European Art at the AGO.

Lisa and Sasha were in London for the GothicIvories: Content and Context conference, 5-6 July 2014.  Andrew was there on “vacation”.  We coordinated our time to work on the bead project together.

July 6th – Andrew landed in London, joining Lisa and Sasha at a gallery opening at Sam Fogg’s Gallery of Medieval Art, Islamicand Indian Art - a heady mix of collectors and academics, mixing over champagne and art.  Contacts were made for Monday.

The British History Museum, London, England.

July 7th - Lisa and Andrew met up at the British Museum to peruse the galleries. In particular we visited the Waddesdon Bequest collection, an amazing collection of objects amassed by Baron Ferdinand de Rothschild and bequeathed to the British Museum.  The highlight of course, from our perspective, was the boxwood miniature tabernacle - this is a prayer bead in a stand… with an elaborately carved base and a top that opens up like petals.

Later, we hooked up with Sasha and visited with Dr. Dora Thornton, Curator of Renaissance Europe at the British Museum, as well as staff members Gina and Ellie.  The British Museum has also scanned the bead from the tabernacle mentioned above – and we talked a lot about the analysis of the scans, and potential for collaboration – a very positive meeting!!

Dr. Thornton took us down to a workroom in the bowels of the museum to check out this amazing boxwood triptychaltar-piece. It is carved in a very similar manner to the prayer beads – the craftsmanship is amazing! The image at the top is of course the crucifixion – the figures in the round part of the base represent the apostles at the last supper (Judas sitting alone in front).  This piece would be great to scan – but might be too delicate to transport to a scanner.  However, Andrew is going to link up with the Detroit Institute of the Arts in August to scan a similar triptych in collaboration with the Nikon Metrology office in Michigan (the company that built our mCT scanner) – stay tuned…

Having taken our leave of the British Museum, we headed down the Victoria Line to the Victoria and Albert Museum to meet with Glyn Davies, a curator at the V&A.  There we discussed three prayer beads in their collection:

Sounds like we’ve got a return scanning trip to plan soon!!!!

Be sure to follow the continuation of Prof. Nelson's adventures in our next blog post!


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