Recently, I went to see a screening at the Omniplex Cinema in Mahonpoint entitled Exhibition on Screen: The Curious World of Hieronymous Bosch. To be honest, I wasn’t sure what to expect – I had never before heard of anyone called that, and, as far as I was concerned, Bosch was simply a washing-machine manufacturer.
Then I found out that Hieronymous Bosch was an Early Netherlandish painter living in the 15th and early 16th centuries, known for his imaginative and captivating style of painting. He would often use surrealistic imagery to depict sin and hell, but also painted a number of depictions of Christ and the saints. His works are fascinating to look at due to his strange, phantasmical style.
Exhibition on Screen, a film production company, produce documentary-type films exhibiting works found in art galleries and museums – places which people would often love to visit, but simply do not have the time or resources (Exhibition on Screen, 2016). The Curious World of Hieronymous Bosch takes us on a tour of the Bosch collection in Het Noordbrabants Museum (Bosch’s hometown) in the southern Netherlands. Have a look at the trailer below:
It was a fascinating experience to go on a virtual tour of an art exhibition. The large screen facilitated the easy viewing of small details; something that is important with Bosch’s paintings, and I found the accompanying commentary insightful and eye-opening. Although I would have liked to have spent more time examining some of the paintings on screen, which would have been possible had I physically attended the exhibition, I found that viewing a virtual art exhibition rather than a physical one also has its advantages – most importantly, looking at the countless minute details made by Bosch’s paintbrush is much easier on a large screen than three feet away from a roped-off painting.
However, what most impressed me from the viewpoint of a Digital Humanities student was how the museum curators utilised technology to discover aspects of the painting which would have been impossible to detect by eye. For the 500th anniversary of Bosch’s death, the Het Noordbrabants museum undertook the carrying out of the Bosch Research & Conservation Project. The main aim of this project was “to subject the largest number of Bosch paintings as possible to rigorous technical examination, ranging from dendrochronological analysis (panel dating) to x-radiography, as well as various other high-res imaging processes.” (Edwards, 2015) An impressive example (not included in the film) can be seen in the short video below (skip to 5:04), when Bosch’s The Flood, a painting of Noah’s Ark and the flood, is being analysed. By looking at the work through infrared light, the curators find something intriguing – a second boat, just in front of the visible one. The former contains animals, whereas only humans can be seen in the latter.
See 5:04 in the short video below.
This short example demonstrates how the use of technology in the analysis of paintings can widen our understanding of a particular field in humanities. Of course, this isn’t just to limited to artwork – any field which examines artefacts can benefit from utilising the digital in research.
A few days ago at our Digital Humanities tutorial, we were discussing the relationship between technology and the humanities and came to the conclusion that the reason for “digital” in our course is to use it to further our knowledge of the humanities. That is, the purpose of the Computer Science part of our course is so that we can apply it for the benefit of our culture. I believe that this small example encapsulates this concept excellently.
Edwards, J., 2015. The Golovine, The Bosch Research & Conversation Project, a New Bosch Exhibition and a Bosch Party. Available at: https://thegolovine.wordpress.com/2015/11/09/the-bosch-research-conservation-project-a-new-bosch-exhibition-and-a-bosch-party/ [last accessed 22nd November 2016].
Exhibition on Screen, 2016. About Us. Available at: http://www.exhibitiononscreen.com/en-uk/our-films/season-4/the-curious-world-of-hieronymous-bosch [last accessed 22nd November 2016].