Knowledge Exchange Violin – Summer 2024

Posted on April 22nd, 2024 by

Renewal, Restoration, Rebirth. The 1861 Church of the Transfiguration, Zagreb,

Back in wonderful Zagreb, and the real work , on this, the latest stage of my ‘Knowledge Exchange Violin’ project. The theme that has emerged here over the past few months is Renewal & Restoration: what is our obligation to the past, present and future and how do these questions collide and collude. Powerfully evident here in the wonderful 1861 Church of the Transfiguration, Zagreb, built by Franjo Klein. e: even a vision of the star-filled empyrean is fragile.

At the heart of this project, a painting: On my most recent visit here, Malene and I spent time with the team of curators and restorers at the Arts and Crafts Museum. This wonderful collection, founded in the 1880s, has its home in a beautiful victorian building next to the Zagreb Music Academy, where I am writing this. When I first came to work in the Croatian capital, two decades ago, I haunted the collection, and fell in love with the building. However, like many of the older buildings in the city, the old structure proved vulnerable to Poseidon’s wrath, and was badly damaged in the earthquake which struck the city in the spring of 2020. So now the collection and its staff are housed in the modern Museum of Contemporary Art, which is about 5 kilometres south of the city centre. Our main reason to visit, was an interesting violin: I will return to this later. However, in the course of our conversations with the curators and restorers there, we were shown a fascinating and beautiful painting by Guido Reni (1575 – 1642). This picture, which depicts the parting of Dido and Aeneas,  reveals a lot more, under x-ray. If you watch the film below, built around a wonderful piece which Michael Alec Rose has written about the painting, you will get a sense of what I am talking about.

One the restorers,  Jasminka Podgorski, who we met on our first visit, explains the process of examining a painting under X-Ray.

‘The property of X-rays is that they can pass through a certain matter in a stronger or weaker way depending on the ability of the matter to absorb it. They leave traces on the film placed on the other side. This property of X-rays is used for imaging various materials – from metals in industry, human body in medicine to paintings and sculptures in art. Radiography in art is a very useful method because you can find out a lot of data (as for example answering  questions concerning authenticity) without any damage to artwork itself. The ability of artwork to absorb X-rays depends on its integral components.

On the radiogram two figures Aeneas and Dido form the central composition of the painting. Except for them, in the right upper corner you can see a third character, i.e. a female head with a headdress. In daylight this female head cannot be seen because it has been painted over with a brown-black colour. When looking from various angles you notice a different structure of the area as well as its being a slightly darker colour.

To get more information about this invisible female figure a method of X-ray fluorescent spectroscopy was applied to determine which pigments were used. The paint layer was investigated on the same spot on two measurement points, one at the front of the painting and one at the back.

When comparing the spectrums obtained from the front (brown – lead white, iron oxide i.e umber, copper pigment i.e. azurite?) to those from the back (lead white, zink white, copper pigment i.e. azurite?, iron oxide) one notices that the main difference is in the intensity of zink which is six times greater at the back. Since zink white was used only since the 19th century it can be assumed that the measurement point was chosen in the area where past restoration has taken place. It is therefore recommended that further analyses both non-destructive and those that would include taking samples from the area where female figure is hiding are undertaken. These analyses should also include comparing pigment composition of the female head to those from the other areas of the painting since that has not yet been done.’ Jasminka Podgorski

I will return to the question as to who this shadowy figure is, was, later. It is worth noting that a version Guido Reni’s painting exists, in Kassel, in which this third figure has not been painted out.

My collaborator and partner, Malene Sheppard Skaerved. Zagreb 23 4 24

But there is an exciting question here, which underpins a lot of what I am trying to explore in this project: what is our duty to the past, present and future, as humans, as artists. Which past do we preserve or reveal – bearing in mind that, for instance, revealing the distant past will, and has, involved destroying less remote histories: when Trajan’s market was revealed in Rome. In the middle ages the 2nd century market was built up with extra stories, and the Torre de Milizie was added on in 1300. in the 1500s a convent was added, which was turned ino the Goffredo Mameli barracks in 1885. At the beginning of the 1900s, this was demolised to reveal the market. Late Renaissance hisroty was removed, to make way for the iron age remains.  Is our priority always to be to reveal, to preserve the ancient past, and to ignore more recent histories.

This question lies at the heart of the work, the discussion that I have been having with the Library of Congress in Washington DC. This film, released last week, explores aspects of that.

Working with the students here at the Zagreb Music Academy, we have been exploring how this interchange of past and present affects their decision-making, the aesthetics and ethics of the peformer’s art and craft. This morning, the gifted young guitarist, Eva Nem?i?, offered a profound insight:

” I like to remember, when I play music, which is, say, 200 years old, that people then could not just go and hear any music that they wanted, like we can – on our phones and computers. The only time that they could hear music, was when it was played, like this, or at a concert. Which means, that when a section of a classical piece is repeated, that is very special, it’s very precious … another chance to hear something again’ (Eva Nem?i? – Zagreb 23 4 24)

I must say, that his was an unexpected and beautiful way of seeing things. I really had not thought of it – although, like every great original thought, it seems obvious, after someone has thought of it, and then told us! This is why we work together – ideas sought, opinions shared, are a boon for us all.

More to follow!

Advertising the upcoming collaboration with the museums and academy here in Zagreb 24 4 24