On the 23rd of March 2017, Christie’s Education held a conference titled ‘Collections and Collecting Ancient, Byzantine and Medieval Art’ at the London location on Great Titchfield Street. The themes of the conference ranged from the history and formation of Ancient, Byzantine, and Medieval collections to how some objects from these periods survive and are collected today; papers were given by academics, collectors, heritage professionals, and an auction house specialist.
A continual thread throughout the conference was that collections, whether amassed in the 13th century or today, were/are valued and thoughtfully created by collectors for various reasons from object veneration (often the case with relics) and as a legacy for future generations. In the afternoon sessions, technology was an important theme with a paper by Amy Jeffs (University of Cambridge) highlighting 3D modelling and how useful this tool can be for viewers who are unable to observe an object in the flesh. Zoom functions and manual rotation of the object make the viewer an active participant when seeing the object in a digital format and allows access to works that may otherwise be impossible.
The conversation of the positive effects of 3D modelling is not dissimilar to the recent use of 3D printing in The National Gallery and in Trafalgar Square. In the exhibition, Michelangelo & Sebastiano, a 3D model of the Borgherini Chapel is presented in a room with original sketches by Michelangelo and Sebastiano for the chapel located in S. Pietro in Montorio, Rome. With the use of technology, the visitor is able to see the original designs for the Borgherini Chapel and make comparisons to a convincing and highly detailed replica, all while located in the heart of London. Similarly, a 3D model of Palmyra’s destroyed Arch of Triumph was recreated and displayed in London and New York in 2016, breathing life into a demolished monument.
The conference emphasised that technology allows collectors and the public a new way to interact with objects such as through the British Museum’s Digital Pilgrim Project which digitises the Museum’s medieval badges collection. The core of the collection stems from Charles Roach Smith’s (1807-90) excavations around London and his eventual compilation of antiquities.
Today, people continue to create collections for many of the same reasons as they did in the past, but the last paper given by a specialist from Christie’s offered some advice for contemporary collectors. Simply stated, collectors must pay attention to what types of objects they are purchasing. Items made from ivory or those with a problematic provenance, for example, may be difficult to sell on or even loan to large institutions – collectors can no longer be oblivious.
Article by Lisa Hockfield