The Fitzwilliam Museum holds a small but exceptional collection of about fifty medieval wood sculptures, largely polychrome, made across Western Europe c. 1300–1550. For the most part extremely fragile, most of the sculptures have never been exhibited and are largely unknown to the public and to scholars alike. We are currently planning a large-scale research project which will enable us to investigate, interpret, conserve and display the collection, ultimately transforming it into a resource that can be utilised for teaching, research and public engagement.
A ten-month pilot funded by a Cambridge Humanities Research Grant ran between January and October 2017, and had two main goals: (i) convene project team members and potential partners to scope and plan the large-scale project; (ii) pilot the analytical methodology we proposed to use to investigate the objects. Four objects were selected for a preliminary conservation treatment and non-invasive scientific analyses, which focused on the investigation of the sculptures’ internal structure; the identification of wood species; and the analysis of the painting materials (pigments and paint binders) and decorative techniques. Further analyses of microsamples revealed the stratigraphy and composition of both the original and later paint layers.
A grant from the newly established Arts and Humanities Impact Fund of the University of Cambridge is currently allowing us to run a series of activities aimed at (i) maximising the impact of the pilot project, which raised interesting methodological questions but also provided significant information about the four sculptures it focused on, and (ii) defining routes to impact for the large-scale project. These impact-focused activities represent an exciting departure from existing projects, by co-developing and testing new engagement methods through a series of collaborative events with practitioners from outside our discipline and with the general public. Activities are being developed along two main strands, in collaboration with the Digital Humanities Network
Ultimately, we expect the Polychromy Revealed project to focus on the Fitzwilliam Museum's exceptional collection of medieval polychrome wood sculpture with the following aims:
Dr Vicky Avery
Dr Miranda Stearn
Dr Kate Noble