How Michelangelo and Sebastiano’s Roman Chapel Was Recreated in London – Hyperallergic

 

First published in Hyperallergic April 17th 2017

LONDON — The National Gallery’s fascinating exhibition Michelangelo and Sebastiano is an academically rigorous survey examining the 25-year relationship between the two Renaissance artists. It uses clear visual examples to explore how their work was at times positively collaborative in the fiercely competitive art scene in Rome, prior to the artists’ eventual falling out. Throughout are many instances illustrating their sharing of motifs and ideas, most often in the provision of drawings by Michelangelo that were adapted in paint by Sebastiano. The most startling of these examples is the presence of an almost-life size reconstruction of the domed Borgherini Chapel from Rome’s Church of San Pietro in Montorio, painted by Sebastiano, with the originating Michelangelo drawings displayed adjacent. The National Gallery has championed the combination of pioneering technology and traditional craft behind this feat, which is the work of Factum Arte, part of the Madrid-based Factum Foundation for Digital Technology.

The reproduction of the Borgherini Chapel by Factum Arte (photo © Factum Arte)
The reproduction of the Borgherini Chapel by Factum Arte (photo © Factum Arte)

Factum Arte spent two days on site in Rome taking over 2,400 high-resolution photographs of the Chapel’s surface, from which Photogrammetry software extracted data detailing volume, dimension, and color, resulting in a minutely accurate digital 3D model. The greatest difficulty was then realizing the 3D model as a physical print, given that printing operates two-dimensionally; using a similar principle to printing a globe’s surface, this involved some complex digital processing, mapping color and texture onto the curved surfaces of the 3D model, and then ‘flattening’ the data into segments using 3D Studio Max software. These segments could then be printed using flexible material and applied to a physical recreation of the Chapel built of lightweight steel, plywood mounted on aluminum panels, and topped with a fiberglass dome. The plaster elements were created using the same techniques employed in 16th century Italy, and profiles were taken of the original plaster work to aid faithful recreation. Further complicating the process is the fact that the original’s dome is not perfectly spherical. The restrictive dimensions of the gallery space at the National also demanded that the reconstruction be 90% of its original scale.

The reproduction of the Borgherini Chapel by Factum Arte (photo © Factum Arte)
The reproduction of the Borgherini Chapel by Factum Arte (photo © Factum Arte)
The reproduction of the Borgherini Chapel by Factum Arte (photo © Factum Arte)
The reproduction of the Borgherini Chapel by Factum Arte (photo © Factum Arte)

The development of 3D printing technology has been embraced by artists as a new medium to explore and facilitate hitherto impossible realizations of the imagination. Its usage here, in the context of the National’s survey, indicates its usefulness as an art historically educative tool — the next step, perhaps, in a long line that progressed from simply making sketches to creating plaster casts to taking photographs. The exhibition includes a 1975 plaster cast of Michelangelo’s Pietà (which will never leave St Peters Basilica in Rome) to demonstrate a cross-pollination of visual motifs: most specifically, the adaptation of the Pietà’s pose by Sebastiano in his nearby “Lamentation” (1516). The presence of the Borgherini Chapel recreation serves a similar function, showing how Sebastiano adapted the numerous preparatory drawings for the piece by Michelangelo, which are displayed adjacent. Even more illustrative here, however, is that the physical recreation gives a greater visual and three-dimensional understanding of the differences between the drawings and the finished painting in scale, color, modeling, and, most importantly, the final context of display. Put the Michelangelo drawings next to a mere photograph of the original Chapel, and one cannot glean anywhere near the same level of understanding of their relationship. The show proves that when used methodically and with judicious intent, such pioneering technology is far from a mere gimmick.

The reproduction of the Borgherini Chapel by Factum Arte (photo © Factum Arte)
The reproduction of the Borgherini Chapel by Factum Arte (photo © Factum Arte)

The Factum Foundation raises an interesting point however with the observation in its press release that, “In viewing a faithful reconstruction with original works of art, visitors may be prompted to reconsider their notions of originality, authenticity, and preservation.” The use of the term “authenticity” is a worrying one, and recalls the recent experiment conducted by the Dulwich Picture Gallery in which one of the works in its permanent collection was replaced with a faithful copy, challenging visitors to guess which one. Successful or not, the show’s intention was undoubtedly to get visitors to look closely at the physical works in front of them; to take into consideration the real material value, form, and condition of the paint on canvas, rather than the image contained therein. It is important to recognize that the presence of the recreated Chapel cannot replace the tangible qualities of the original, and that 3D printing should not usurp the place of ‘traditional’ crafted objects and things.

The reproduction of the Borgherini Chapel by Factum Arte (photo © Factum Arte)
The reproduction of the Borgherini Chapel by Factum Arte (photo © Factum Arte)

Moreover, the Factum Foundation notes that not only does this recreation serve to enhance the Michelangelo and Sebastiano exhibition, but that this technological process represents “a significant step in the original Chapel’s preservation, acting as a reference of its current state and as a tool for future study”. The importance of this singular facet of the project, aside from its use in the exhibition as an educational tool as combined with ‘creative’ recreation for that purpose, cannot be overestimated in light of the destruction of irreplaceable artworks and monuments around the globe. Geographically, earthquakes in Italy provide a continuing threat to the preservation of artworks, but on a more urgent level it is impossible to not mention here the threat from deliberate destruction by man. The 3D model of Arch of Triumph in Palmyra, Syria, while achieving mixed results in its effectiveness both as a physical recreation and in its purpose of raising awareness about terrorism, nonetheless faithfully recorded an item destroyed by ISIS in 2015. In this light, while it is exciting that such technology is capable of reproducing large monuments and even whole towns, it is chilling to realize that there is increasing necessity for it.

The reproduction of the Borgherini Chapel by Factum Arte (photo © Factum Arte)
The reproduction of the Borgherini Chapel by Factum Arte (photo © Factum Arte)

Michelangelo & Sebastiano continues at the National Gallery (Trafalgar Square, London, UK) through June 25

London Area Gallery Review, October 2014 – Pre-FRIEZE

Pre-Frieze London Art Gallery Overview By Olivia McEwan - ArtLyst Article image

This weekend Artlyst reviewer Olivia McEwan covers the most talked about exhibitions to see before the Frieze sets in!

This week sees a pleasing blend of the old and the new: selected entrants to the annual Illustration Awards are showing at Somerset House, while José Damasceno’s ‘Plot’ revitalises the Holborn library’s staid 1960s décor with an ArtAngel commissioned installation. Tom Dale makes child play of politics and power at the Copperfield gallery in SE1, while giants of the latter half of the 20th century Anthony Caro and Paula Rego are represented by Annely Juda and the Marlborough Gallery respectively.

Organised by the Association of Illustrators, the Illustration Award is the only annual jury selected competition of its kind in the UK, representing a panorama of the vast uses and professions for which illustration is currently employed. The most stimulating element of such a show is the density of themes and wholly contained projects displayed here: while contemporary fine art – and perhaps specifically painting – exists in relative isolation, meant to suggest, to ask more questions than answer, these graphic works are created to a brief, and as such exist as fully formulated responses.

Standouts include Laurindo Feliciano’s graphic work reflects the creative process within both fine art and fashion, likening it to that of a physician or anatomist working upon the blank canvas of the body, using medicine journal-like motifs. Breathtaking is Jillian Tomaki’s blending of precision graphics with painterly impression in an illustrated ‘Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea’ created for the Folio Society: a reminder of how beautifully complementary visual accompaniments can so enhance the bare medium of text. Andy Ward’s series of posters commissioned by the University of California to raise mental health awareness are an ironic use of bright cartoon colours and fluffy animals to suggest that surface harmony may not be all as it seems: a devastating and hugely affecting sequence.

Worth visiting alone for a perfectly preserved slice of 1960s architecture and décor, the Holborn library is currently sporting a subtle and well integrated series of installations by José Damasceno, drawing on the idea of literary narrative linking the viewers’ experience through public spaces, bringing to attention the possibilities of scale. Thus in the main reading room, miniature silhouette figures derived from Letraset’s 1970s standardised characters created to inhabit architectural plans spring upside down from the ceiling; a direct literary evocation of Swift’s ‘Gulliver’s Travels’. Most interesting is his intervention on the top floor theatre – once used to screen back to back Hammer Horror films – imagining the theatre stage breaking into miniature islands floating throughout the audience space.

Annely Juda’s modestly sized galleries currently focus on the later works of Anthony Caro before his death in 2013, mainly his latter experimentation with Perspex. This is an exercise not in philosophical ideas pursued through visual medium, but in creating aesthetic sculptures that exist harmoniously independently and in plural. On paper looking like an afterthought, the careful matching of Perspex colour, opacity and shape actually adds an extra dimension to each piece, enhancing the endless interplay of facets and joins between plastic and rusted metal. Two of the works are in direct response to a visit to the Courtauld Gallery, more specifically Cézanne’s ‘Card players’, and make for an otherwise unlikely – though here proved brilliant – comparison between the two mediums. One can easily see how the faceted planes of pure coloured paint structured around hatched and angular linear outlines is translatable into the three dimensional models of interlocking and conflicting planes of Perspex or metal.

A giant of draughtsmanship, Paula Rego is another influential figure in British Art, here represented by Marlborough Fine Art, Mayfair. The usual dark themes and strong narrative are present – each piece a unified whole and crammed with visual detail and intrigue. Yet the work seems deliberately to be wandering into the realm of the currently fashionably naïve school: the strength of line has in some places been allowed to waver and falter, the grotesque element of bodily contortions and caricature allowed to come to the fore, rather than remaining a disturbing undercurrent. Adding to the equation is a greater conflict between medium, with the scratchiness of pencil line vying against swathes of patchily applied opaque white. Rego’s work has always been challenging in its dark nature, yet carried by the strength of line and strong composition: here we see works that threaten to become cluttered, uncomfortably disproportionate.

Crammed into the tiny Copperfield gallery tucked away in SE1 is Tom Dale’s ‘Department of the Interior’ – a giant bouncy castle made from bondage leather. While the current Turner Prize opens further down the river, filling Tate Britain with ideas barely made comprehensible (Duncan Campbell’s 54 minute long waffly video, anyone?), Dale’s point is powerful and concisely made. A slamming pun on the ‘child’s play’ that is the UK seat of power, or politics in general even, the castle entices and lures us in, despite its imposing, forbidding shiny black. Towering above us – yet forbidden to enter – it represents a false home, a chomping vagina, portcullis (portcuntis?) threatening to slam shut, with those inside engaging in the most childish, unashamed of practices. A well thought out idea, and well executed. Other pieces are slightly dwarfed, though no less intriguing. ‘I Cave’ is similarly a very simple idea: children’s party masks face inwards in a sphere, sprayed brilliant gold. Viewing through the mask eye-holes, we are posited in various guises and confronted with a distorted, glittering though obscured vision of ourselves in a curved mirror. Evoking Plato’s Allegory of the Cave, it questions what worlds we consider real or folly, a comment on superficiality and our own petty aspirations. A small but very consistent show.