Skip to main content

Museums and the Web

An annual conference exploring the social, cultural, design, technological, economic, and organizational issues of culture, science and heritage on-line.

The Mourners: Tomb Sculptures from the Court of Burgundy

People's Choice:
1 vote

Institution: 

FRAME (French Regional American Museum Exchange) and Musée des beaux-artes, Dijon

Designer: 

Rory Matthews (rory.com) (web design) and Jared Bendis (sculpture imaging)

Category: 

Exhibition

Why

Image of "About the Mourners" page

The website, “The Mourners: Tomb Sculptures from the Court of Burgundy,” was produced by FRAME (French Regional American Museum Exchange) and the Musée des beaux-artes, Dijon in connection with and support of an exhibition of that name which opened at The Metropolitan Museum of Art in March, 2010 and continues its tour of seven American museums through 2012. It was funded by the Samuel H. Kress Foundation.

Image of a mourner, rotated, and close-up, straight-on

During the 14th and 15th centuries, the Valois Dukes of Burgundy ruled over extensive territories in present day France and surrounding areas; a region which became a major center of artistic patronage. Their court's sculpture workshop produced some of the most profound and original art of the period, with the tomb of John the Fearless representing the summit of their achievement. The tomb, located at Dijon, includes an arcade populated by a processional of alabaster figures of monks and clerics, known collectively as “the Mourners;” each mourner is a sculptural masterpiece in its own right. Fortuitously, the ongoing expansion and renovation of the museum created the opportunity for these exceptional works to be photographed and then travel together to the United States, under the auspice of FRAME (French Regional American Museum Exchange) of which the museum is a member. In the words of Sophie Jugie, Director of Musée des Beaux-Arts de Dijon, where the tomb resides, “we cannot help but be struck by the emotion they convey as they follow the funeral procession, weeping, praying, singing, lost in thought, giving vent to their grief, or consoling their neighbor.” It is precisely that emotion, in addition to craft, which we attempt to convey in the personal communion with each object that this web site affords.

Mourner, this time from above

The project that resulted in this web site included onsite (Dijon) high-resolution photography of 42 sculptures, 360-degrees around, from straight on, from above, from below, and in stereoscopic 3D (straight-on only), resulting in more than 14,000 images that enabled this construction.  This website’s importance lies not just in imagery of seminal medieval sculptures that are admired and studied around the world though, but more so in how it engages visitors in exploring them. The manipulations and angles at which the sculptures can be seen enable viewers to appreciate fine details and aspects that would otherwise remain hidden because of the way they are usually situated in arcades surrounding the tomb.  Moreover, a fourth “perspective” --- stereoscopic 3D --- allows visitors to explore the statues with an important added value. It imparts that special spatial dimension and tangibility that let’s one seem to “feel round it”. The depth of the fold of the cloak, the outstretched hand grasping a scripture, the shape of a head as it turns away from you --- the sensations can seem palpable. Interestingly, these 3D views seem to not only draw in those who are new to experiencing the allure of the sculptures themselves --- they may provide an additional, memorable, spatial and tangibilty context for the other (non-stereoscopic) 3D perspectives.

Here is a fully manipulable view of the arcade in which the mourners generally reside. Note how they are obscured. This web component allows exploration of the arcade and the ability to "pull out" any mourner for more detailed exploration

In addition to the sculpture images, contextual educational material (online and printable), animations, exhibition information, and more, with the ability to easily add more, serves to prepare the prospective exhibition visitor, serve as a reminiscence later, and become a new unique resource for educators, scholars, students, and the general public. 

An animation vividly, enagingly depicts how the components of the tomb, including the statues all come together [Note: this was produced outside the website project, yet the architecure of the site enables its easy inclusion.]

This website is focused on the objects, rather than portraying the ways in which they were displayed, which varied considerably from venue to venue. In addition to the extraordinary navigational features used to explore the sculptures, visitors can manipulate the statue to any desired perspective, and simply download a high-resolution image from that perspective, free to use for educational and personal use.

In addition to the general positive feedback about the web site from museum staff, visitors, the press and blogosphere, here are two comments that were especially appreciated:

From the NY Times Artsjournal blog of Judith H. Dobrzynski on Culture:

“Right now, you can go there to get close-ups, with zoom-in capability, of each of the Mourners -- and you can rotate them, 360 degrees. It's not quite, but almost, as good as being there.”

And from an unexpected voice, the American Society of Cinematographers’ John’s Bailiwick blog:

“Even if your idea of a hip website would not happen to include one dedicated to medieval Burgundian tomb sculptures—this one, showing a veritable platoon of flawless, white alabaster figures against a rich, black field in 3-D is, dare I say it, way cool.

This is a web site which emerged from an opportunity born of an exhibition, but can be expected to live for years to come as an important resource in the study of medieval sculpture, and as the nascent model of how sculpture should be portrayed on the web. 

Thank you very much for your consideration.

 

Images

Image: "About the Mourners" page

Image 1 of  4: Mourner, rotated, and close-up, straight-on

Image 2 of 4: Mourner, this time from above

Image 3 of 4: Here is a fully manipulable view of the arcade in which the mourners generally reside. Note how they are obscured. This web component allows exploration of the arcade and the ability to "pull out" any mourner for more detailed exploration

Image 4 of 4: An animation vividly, enagingly depicts how the components of the tomb, including the statues all come together [Note: this was produced outside the website project, yet the architecure of the site enables its easy inclusion.]