Decoding Artifacts

Jessica Pissini

Fall 2015

MA in Digital Art History student Jessica Pissini completed this project as part of her master’s thesis. Below is her explanation of her work:

The Decoding Artifacts project is researching medieval sculpture in new ways by studying stone carving tools and marks, the relationship of sound to the sculptor’s technique, and the importance of drawings and their connections to geometry. In addition, the project’s team is exploring ways to use digital tools and applications for public outreach and education within the Nasher Museum of Art. This website and augmented reality museum app presents 3D models, educational videos, and images as instruments of learning about stone carving and the artifact’s history. It encourages visitors to interact with the museum objects while exploring the virtual information and visualizations.

Access the website.

Find out more about Jessica’s experience in the MA program.


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The aim of this project is to spatially reconstruct an exceptional architectural source from early modern Portugal called the “Livro das Fortalezas” (Book of Fortresses). This bound volume was created by a Portuguese squire named Duarte de Armas in 1510. It includes a folio of perspective drawings from two vantage-points of over 50 castles on the border between the kingdoms of Portugal and Spain and a second folio of measured plans for each site. With the assistance of student researchers, the book will be reconstructed as a data-rich, three-dimensional map. Sub-projects will include 3D models of the fortresses based on Duarte de Armas’ plans and drawings, a database identifying architectural features and scenes from daily life in the drawings, and GIS layers designed to study how the castles formed a fortified chain on the border with Spain. Future plans include a photogrammetric analysis of the sites in order to determine with greater precision where Duarte de Armas had to be standing when he drew the perspectival drawings, how accurate he was in terms of perspective, scale and detail, and how these castles and towns have changed since 1510.

Gothic Cathedrals: The Cathedral of Saint Susanne

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Students in ARTHIST 225 Gothic Cathedrals spend the semester designing architectural plans for plausible medieval European cathedrals. They develop an historical and religious narrative, budget, iconography, and elevations, sections, and floor plans. Here is one example of such a project.

 

 


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This wonderful arch consists of intertwined men and animals combined in a frightening vision of suffering in Hell or Purgatory.  The arch is from the Cathedral of Alife, an ancient Roman city near Naples, Italy, and is a remarkable example of Italian Romanesque sculpture.  The analysis of the marble of the individual pieces  indicates that they were carved from Roman materials originally from quarries in Italy, Turkey, and the Greek islands. Fragments of ancient sculpture can be seen on the reverse side of the medieval carving.

A team of Duke students is developing an interactive visualization to engage museum visitors with the history and meaning of this remarkable work of art.


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This project focuses on the process of digital city-making itself, drawing upon technology studies and media theory as well as historical documents, monuments, architecture, and other cultural artifacts. Researchers in this team are focused on the development of digital and mixed reality experiences as tools for discovery and research presentation. We focus on annotated digital maps, 3D modeling, augmented reality overlays, audio and video supplements, procedural narrations, data visualizations and network flow diagrams in order to understand both the past of a city and its presence and effects in contemporary experiences of it. With projects running in Durham, Venice, and Bremen, and with a mobile app framework under development of on-site exploration experiences, the project goals are both to create multimodal research products that take advantage of the affordances of both analog and digital media forms as well as to develop a guidelines for an emergence genre for both research presentation and transformative, affective experience in real time and space.


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Students in ARTHIST 256 Italian Baroque Art used Omeka and Neatline to create digital archives and exhibitions that use annotated historical maps, timelines, and multimedia to construct visual narratives about significant artists, patrons, and sites created in Italy during the seventeenth century. Their projects can be viewed at http://baroque.trinity.duke.edu/.


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This project seeks to consider the Great Exhibition of 1851 as a place constructed in a highly determined space located in the physical and metaphorical heart of British colonial power. Famous both for the building itself, Paxton’s Crystal Palace, and the diverse objects and people from around the world that it contained, the Exhibition is nonetheless difficult to study as a spatial phenomenon due to its sheer complexity and scope. The diverse array of artworks, artifacts, machines, inventions, craft objects and human tableaux that were shown are richly documented in planning documents, photos, paintings, catalogs, engravings, new stories, travel narratives, and imaginative literature; the building itself is a favorite of architectural historians and engineers, who have reconstructed it in 3D numerous times.

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The Alife Arch project interrogates the provenance and function of several stone fragments in the Brummer Collection of the Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University. The project follows the lives of these fragments from their original contexts in antiquity to the Nasher today. Spolia from widespread ancient monuments, the fragments were brought to the southern Italian city of Alife in the Middle Ages, where they were used in the sculptural decoration of the cathedral.

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Project Website

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