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Day 10: From Provenance to Trajectories: The Digital Paths of Art History

Claudia Sciuto, Jelena Behaim and Ana Cabrera-Lafuente

16 September 2018

During the past few weeks, our focus was project itineraries, seen through three different concepts: provenance, geography/space and visualisation/representation. When considering provenance, we discussed how in Art History and archival material found in museums, applies to the history of object’s ownerships, traced in order to establish the authenticity of art history objects.

In Archaeology, provenance rather indicates the find spot or the raw materials an object is made of. Both definitions (art historical and archaeological) provide information about art history objects and their interactions with different actors, people or other objects, in various socio-cultural contexts.

We decided to associate the notion of provenance with the concepts of itineraries and trajectories as a broad and dynamic approach to an object’s itineraries. To reinforce this idea, we decided to work on several case studies that would offer us a broad range of perspectives on trajectories, inspired by the concept of provenance, including geography/space and visualisation/representation as components of the narrative.


Last day of the Institute started with the summary of yesterday’s presentations from the groups. All the groups mapped the trajectories of different artworks using them as case studies: Townley Vase (British Museum), Cast of marble fragment (Sir John Soane’s Museum), Damascus tiles (Leighton House), Diadoumenos, Parthenon marble plaster cast (Leighton House), copy of the Dancing Faun (Leighton House), Portland Vase (British Museum), Cycladic Figures, Frome Hoard, Flaming June, London’s Roman Amphitheatre, Lord Frederic Leighton’s Clytie painting (Leighton House), Ephesian Artemis (Sir John Soane’s Museum). The groups surveyed available information on the web, in museum repositories, social media, scientific publications and while visiting the site(s). The presentations were dealing with different aspects of items and/or sites, exploring scales of objects from subject space to resonances, passing through history of ideas, technology and developments of art history. With this approach we could analyse possibilities and constraints of digital technologies in representing links and movements, customizing the exploration of trajectories according to the specific needs of the user. There were different questions that came up during the discussion, one of them being the problem of blurry data or gaps in the documentation that should be taken into account when analysing digital materials. Also, we discussed pros and cons with the use of linear narratives, or timelines that should be used as reference, but interlinked with granular knots of information to describe each trajectory dynamics.

In addition, the members of the Institute have discussed how the user experience should be implemented allowing the single actor to trace the path of her\his own research and leave a trail. That way the exploration will raise new questions and propose points of view increasing the complexity of object trajectories and finally, the narrative will be left open for future developments foreseeing the future itineraries that objects of art might undertake.

We have finished our two-week meeting summarizing future tasks related to the Proof of Concept design and content. It was again discussed that in the future we should stress the importance of presenting trajectories through both the concept of timeline, map and representation in order to offer a wide perspective of its contextual narratives.

In the afternoon a practical example of interlinked narratives was presented by Professor Michael Trapp who kindly took us through the curious history of the Strand Lane Bath.


The site, nowadays located near the Strand building at KCL, was originally part of an early 17th century fountain belonging to Somerset House. In 1830, on the wave of enthusiasm for the newly discovered town of Pompeii, the interest for the roman antiquity increased all over Britain to the point that the cistern in Strand Lane was re-interpreted as an ancient roman bath. The quarrel about the function and chronology of the building became part of its history ensuring the preservation. Few drawings, collected by Professor Trapp, accurately document the perception of the remains and illustrate visions of the past from late 19th and early 20th century.

With this excellent example of object’s trajectory through the urban development of London’s hearth and projected antique splendour, our first meeting is heading towards its end. We carry back to our institutions exciting new thoughts and reflections about the digital potential of Art History but above all plenty of good memories of experiences shared with the other members of the Institute. We are all looking forward to the next meeting at the Swedish Institute in Athens to continue our collaborative endeavour under the warm Mediterranean sun.

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