On With Their Heads

Iara Dundas, Elisabeth Narkin, Tim Prizer

This project follows the complex cultural biographies of two sculptural fragments in the Brummer Collection at Duke University’s Nasher Museum of Art. In analyzing the Head of a Virgin from the choir screen at Chartres’ cathedral and a Virtue from the north transept portal of Notre-Dame of Paris, this project seeks to better understand the objects’ various historical contexts and meanings and hopes to offer innovative solutions as to how best to represent these perspectives in a museum setting. In thinking through the stories of the Virgin and theVirtue, iconoclasm is employed as a unifying interpretive lens through which to examine the evolving significations of the objects. Guided by research questions about what narratives objects contain and how digital representation can tell these stories, “On with their Heads” is envisioned as an intervention in the traditional scholarship on these two well-known edifices as well as a proposal about how research in the humanities research can benefit from a mutually influential relationship with digital technologies.

San Lorenzo Maggiore in Naples

San Lorenzo is founded in the heart of historic Naples in the location of the ancient Roman market, the remains of which can still be visited underneath the church. After a mud-slide in the 6th century C.E., a Christian church, the foundations of which were rediscovered in excavations after World War II, was built over the market.

In 1234 the site was given to the Franciscan order and became the major center of Franciscan spirituality in the Kingdom of Sicily. The friars gradually transformed the old basilica, expanding it to the sides with lateral chapels (probably in the 1250s and 1260s), extending it to the east with a new Gothic choir (starting in the 1270s), and after c. 1324 enlarging it to the west with a new west façade. In the last expansion of the church, the old basilica was demolished and a transept was inserted within the structure. Each addition was conceived in relation to the pre-existing building, even as they partially modified or (even) destroyed it. In the process, the builders entirely voided out the interior of the old basilica while keeping the exterior “envelop” intact.

How can we explain this kind of complex narrative to the public that now experiences San Lorenzo as one vast and unified interior space? Archaeological plans are usually understood only by specialists with deep historical knowledge: our project has therefore attempted to create an animated and illustrated narrative to explain the complicated and on-going process of episodic and gradual transformation that created the church we see today, one that is deeply in the heart of Neapolitan life and culture.

A video of the model developed for this project can be viewed here:

Lux from Umberto Plaja on Vimeo.

Mapping Stereotomy

Sara Galletti, Kristin Huffman


Mapping Stereotomy is a database dedicated to stereotomy, the art of cutting stones into particular shapes for the construction of vaulted structures. Stereotomy is best known for the variety of acrobatic masterpieces produced in early modern France and Spain. Yet the art is neither early modern nor European; it has been practiced over a wide temporal span, from Hellenistic Greece to contemporary Apulia, and across a broad geographical area, centered on the Mediterranean Basin but reaching far beyond—from Cairo to Gloucester and from Yerevan to Braga. Mapping Stereotomy consolidates and visualizes information on stereotomic vaults from antiquity through early modernity, with the aim of furthering and broadening research in the fields of construction techniques and Mediterranean studies.


Aidan Blake

Margot Calmar

Angela Tawfick

Old Stones and New Technologies

Caroline Bruzelius, Carlo Tomasi


Professor Caroline Bruzelius (Art, Art History & Visual Studies) led a team of Duke undergraduate students on a research trip to Naples over Spring break 2013. They used the opportunity to test a new data capture system for use with medieval masonry, working primarily in the church of San Lorenzo, a Franciscan basilica in the heart of medieval Naples. The students are experimenting with an analytic system for the study of historic buildings through pattern recognition, data mining, and texture analysis. Their research works with computational analytics to examine the surface textures left by masons on building stones in order to extract information on the technology of stonecutting, possibly identify individual masons (tool marks are like signatures), and eventually provide educated estimates on the size of the labor force. This project is part of a multi-year research and teaching initiative that will result in independent research and senior distinction theses for undergraduates. The student team works closely with Professor Bruzelius and Professor Carlo Tomasi (Computer Science) to collect data, develop and eventually test the new analytic systems with the intention of creating a systematic protocol for the study of walls, carved surfaces (flat and curved) and masonry construction in historic buildings and eventually sculpture. Duke students involved in this project may be in a position to provide an original contribution to scholarship of on-going utility that might have broader implications for fields of study in restoration of historic monuments as well as Ancient and Medieval Sculpture, Archaeology, and Architectural and Urban History.


Old Stones and New Technologies: Computer Vision and Medieval Stone Carving

Stone Carving Images

San Francesco a Folloni

Michal Koszycki, Rebecca Wood

San Francesco a Folloni, located to the southeast of Naples near the ancient Appian Road from Rome to Brindisi, is a Franciscan convent founded in the thirteenth century. It is still the home of a small community of friars who are actively engaged with the nearby town of Monella. The church and convent have been repaired, expanded, and reconstructed on many occasions – the axis of the church was even rotated 180 degrees from its original alignment. In 2009 a group of four Duke undergraduates worked closely with the prior of the community, Fra Agnello, to propose an animated reconstruction of the history of the convent and its buildings. Thanks to funding provided by Dean Lee Baker, the students were able to travel to Italy and spend ten days working on site, living in the Franciscan community with the friars.

The reconstruction presented by the Duke University students presents an innovative interpretation of early Franciscan architecture, representing it as an additive process supported (and even driven) by the donations of private patrons who requested burial in the church and cloister. The complex was built in a series of incremental steps of additions and expansions that spread out over at least 8 centuries.

A video explaining the project can be viewed here:

San Francesco a Folloni from AAH&VS on Vimeo.

Sta. Chiara Choir Screen

Andrea Basso, Caroline Bruzelius, Elisa CastagnaLucas Giles, Andrea Giordano, Cosimo Monteleone

Fall 2016

Sta. Chiara is one of the largest churches of Naples, erected between 1310 and c. 1340 by the King and Queen of Naples, Robert the Wise and Sancia of Mallorca.  It was reconstructed after the Allied bombardment of August, 1943, which damaged the walls and destroyed the stucco decoration of the 18th century.

In the Middle Ages the nave of Sta. Chiara, as in other religious buildings, was divided into several sections by a choir screen, or tramezzo.  These were substantial masonry walls that separated the lay public from the clergy; in the case of this church, the choir screen would have included chapels and altars that were important for the devotion of the lay public.

Prof. Caroline Bruzelius (Duke University) has worked with a group of students and colleagues at Duke University and the Universities of Padua, Naples, and Salerno on this project, trying to reconstruct the choir screen and the church with the help of 3D technologies. Creating a 3D model enabled the research team to think through the various options and arrive at a plausible hypothesis of the dimensions of the choir screen at Sta. Chiara, engaging as well with issues of visibility from the nave of the church through to the main altar and the tomb of King Robert the Wise (d. 1343).

The choir screen formed the central subject of study for Lucas GilesMA in Digital Art History Master’s thesis. Its reconstruction and visualization were the main focuses of University of Padua students Andrea Basso and Elisa Castagna’s visit to Duke.

Operating Archives

Mark Olson

Fall 2013 - present

The Operating Archives project emerges out of a concern with the preservation of the “performativity” of objects in the digital archive. While digital archives afford access to historical texts, images, and objects to be read and viewed, often in a reconstituted contextual milieu, what about objects that were intended to beoperated? Taking the creation of a multimedia / multmodal archive of historical medical technologies as both case study and laboratory, this project explores different interfaces for interacting with digital objects that attempt to reconstruct contexts of use. Leveraging both interactive gaming platforms and physical computing interfaces, the project explores embodied modes of interacting with digital objects.


Stephanie Fiddy

Alex Gordon

Talking Heads

Jessica Pissini, Chelsea, Victor, and Lauren

Spring 2015

Project Website

We know that the digital tools we have today allow us to recreate historical data in a way that we have never been able to do before. Because of this, the objective of our final project is a comprehensive historical study of the reconstruction and coloring of two heads from the Nasher’s Brummer collection supported by digital tools. We have chosen the Head of the Virtue, previously worked on by Simon Verity, and the Head of a King, both of which are French in origin. The Head of the Virtue was originally from Notre-Dame Cathedral and is dated to the first half of the 13th century; there is a similar head at the Musée de Cluny in Paris. The Head of the King came from San Germain des Prés.

Our research related to each head will better contribute to producing a more historically accurate reconstruction, from the facial features to the coloring of the surface. Therefore, our main research questions will focus on the provenance of the heads, the value of the material used, and its uses. The value of the material used for the sculptures, as well as its surroundings, will affect how these may have looked and how they were used. Physically, the stone’s value has a direct relationship to the the pigmentation of the surfaces, since the amount invested will affect the colors available for use and will help us specify how we will digitally color our heads. Depending on the costs and location within the building, a sculpture could have been used to simply convey stories of the bible to those who could not read Latin, or for a wealthy patron to purchase heavenly leverage.

View our complete project here. View the models below.


Notre Dame Virtue:


Notre Dame Virtue, Restored Version by Simon Verity:


Head of a King, Restored Version by Jessica Pissini:

Paris of Waters

Sara Galletti

Spring 2014 - present

Paris of Waters is a research project that focuses on the impact of water on the demographic, social, architectural, and urban development of the city of Paris through time. The project is concerned with water in a wide array of forms—as resource, as commodity, as means of transportation, as funnel for the city’s waste, and as cause of disaster and death—and with making it visible as a powerful agent of urban change. Paris of Waters challenges traditional urban history narratives—which tend to focus on design, monumentality, and the stylistic features of the built environment—by highlighting the role of infrastructure, underground works, and hydraulic management and engineering as defining elements of a city’s development and history.


Gaby Bloom

Andrew Lin

Amanda Lazarus

Dryden Quigley

Hanna Wiegers

Irene Zhou

Troyes Cathedral: Stained Glass

Brad Lenz, Henrietta Miers, Crystal Terry, and Hanna Wiegers

Spring 2015

Project Website

This project concerns a piece of 13th Century stained glass from the Brummer Collection in the Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University. The scene, of which only half remains in the hands of the Nasher, depicts God instructing Adam and Eve at the tree of knowledge. This fragment is in poor condition; its structure is damaged, and its color is dimmed. Our handling of the object was limited, which limited our ability to directly infer the original colors from the piece itself. In order to better understand what the piece may have looked like in its original location within the Saint Pierre-Saint Paul Cathedral at Troyes, we created a digitally recolored version of the window and positioned it in a 3D model of the cathedral.