2017 International Congress on Medieval Studies,
IAS-Sponsored Session

Digital Reconstructions: Italian Buildings and their Decorations

Organizers: Kaelin Jewell, Temple University, and Amy Gillette, St. Joseph’s University

The digital reconstruction of architectural complexes, including the reinstallation of dispersed artistic works in their original settings, is a good way of showing material and spatial contexts and of studying the dynamic interactions between monumental architecture, painting, and other media. Historians of medieval architecture have productively used digital technologies to re-imagine lost monuments or furnishings, reveal aspects of correspondence in pictorial and architectural iconography, decipher construction techniques, determine the nature and scope of collaboration between architects and decorators, and grapple with the ways in which medieval people experienced their three-dimensional, functional spaces. Digital reconstruction is also useful for bridging monuments and their modern publics—for instance, the Scuola San Marco in Venice has installed virtual “copies” of dispersed paintings in the Albergo, so that visitors can readily apprehend its original presentation.


Gregor Kalas, University of Tennessee, Knoxville
“Geographic Data from the Inscriptions of the Late Antique Roman Forum”

The specific locations of urban monuments, generated from the rediscovery of post-classical inscriptions, offer particularly productive insights into the late antique Roman Forum, Rome’s main zone for political gatherings. A three-dimensional environment reveals that statues displayed upon inscribed plinths installed during the fourth and fifth centuries resonated during key ritual practices such as grand processions. Analyzing geographic data from the inscriptions originating from the statue installations, the proposed paper reflects back upon the collaborative digital project, “Visualizing Statues in the Late Antique Roman Forum” (http://inscriptions.etc.ucla.edu). I will address how visual simulations produce insights into the experiences of moving through urban space, with the perceptions of statues changing as viewers progressed through the city. The paper will draw upon simulated movement to articulate how viewers identified the local aristocrats with respect to the architectural contexts in which their identities were presented, whereas images of emperors were juxtaposed to the backdrop of other representations of rulers. Finally, I will use the reconstruction based in geographic data to make specific claims about the consular procession of emperor Honorius in 404 and the Roman commemorations in absentia for the Byzantine emperor Phocas, ruling from 602 to 610.

Ruggero Longo, Independent Scholar
"A Digital Model and Virtual Reconstruction of the Norman Palace in Palermo: New Tools for New Understandings of the Medieval Spaces"

The Royal Palace in Palermo is an outstanding as well as intricate architectural palimpsest. It includes different historical layers of construction, from the first Punic settlement lying beneath the monument, through the Medieval and Early Modern phases of the palace, up to today. The digital three-dimensional model of the Palace, with its famous Palatine Chapel, is a fundamental tool, thanks to which a deeper knowledge of the monument arises.
The digitization of spaces and images and the creation of a virtual three-dimensional model imply a double advantage. From an artistic and aesthetic point of view, the virtual model of the Palatine Chapel, including high definition photographs, allows us to explore every detail of the surfaces where magnificent mosaics are displayed. This – better than any other tool – makes possible and available for scholars the accurate analysis and study of the images in their relationship with the space around.

From an architectural point of view, through the entire model of the palace, it has been possible to imagine and reconstruct the medieval shape of the building – now hidden by early modern construction phases – and to figure out the original functions and configurations of the monument. Over all, it is possible to formulate more reliable hypotheses concerning the original link between the Palatine Chapel and the private dwellings of the kings, but also to imagine the spaces and the ceremonial path that was connecting the Norman Palace to the Cathedral in the Norman period.
Moreover, the three-dimensional survey is a powerful tool for the documentation and preservation of the monument. It also allows enhancing the cultural promotion of the Palace thanks to an interactive archive directly queryable from the virtual model, but also through a virtual surfing within the Palace itself, either in its current shape and configuration or in its hypothetical medieval reconstruction.

Lucas Giles, Duke University
"Historic Architecture and Digital Modelling: A Reconstruction of the Choir Screen at Santa Chiara, Naples"

Medieval Italian tramezzi have traditionally been overlooked in the study of ecclesiastical buildings. Used to separate the clergy from the laity, only a handful of examples have survived within the Italian peninsula following their widespread destruction after the Counter-Reformation in the 16th century. As a result of this dearth in material evidence, our understanding of their role in the spatial division of church interiors is limited. Where were they located, what did they look like and ultimately how did they function as liturgical objects?

This paper aims to answer these questions through a case study into the church of Santa Chiara in Naples. It primarily revolves around a digital reconstruction of the medieval tramezzo based on geo-radar scans which revealed the underground foundations of the structure. Built as a double convent to house both Franciscan Friars and Clarissan Nuns, strict enclosure played an important role at Santa Chiara. The tramezzo therefore had a heightened bearing on the interior layout. The reconstruction of the screen, which is recontextualized within a digital model of the church, will help to visualize this impact, serving as a springboard to examine how Santa Chiara functioned as a liturgical space.

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