Many of you will be familiar with the legends which surround our beloved Jeremy Bentham and the alleged antics of his mummified and wax heads (two heads are better than one after all). According to UCL tradition these have been head-napped, ransomed and used as a football. For some further reading on this topic please see “Fake News”
This, however is the story of quite another UCL head.
Inspired by a most unusual 17th-century engraving, in this blog student Ethan Low (UCL Bachelor of Arts and Sciences) explores how haptic technology could help us understand what an artist felt at the time they created their work by recreating their sensory experiences.
For me, and I suspect many other people as well, interacting with an art piece is a process of finding peace. It is a private sanctuary, a quiet place, where you communicate with the artist on the themes of their work. A great deal of this communication is facilitated by knowing the contexts of artworks, in addition to the experiences and personalities of the artists, as told to us by curators.
But what if there is limited information about a certain artwork? Are there other means of opening up dialogues with works we know less about?
Enter Claude Mellan’s enigmatic masterpiece, The Face of Christ, also known as the Sudarium of Saint Veronica. The Face of Christ is a piece which rewards the inquisitive; viewed at a distance, it appears to no different from hundreds of other engravings from the 17th century. The imagery depicts the titular true face of Christ, which according to Christian myth, was imprinted on a sudarium, a sweat cloth for wiping the face, offered to Jesus by Saint Veronica.
The Face of Christ / Sudarium of Saint Veronica by Claude Mellan (1598-1688), UCL Art Museum
Upon closer viewing, I realized an astonishing fact; the entire image is formed by a single spiral line! Variations in line width convey the appropriate shadows in darker spaces much like the more well-known technique of cross hatching. This is complimented by the inscription below the image, which means “the unique one made by one / [like] no other”. Although some have suggested that Mellan was following in the contemporary tradition of creating representations of the sacred sudarium, (Raissis, 2014) not much else is known for certain about the work.
Detail of The Face of Christ by Claude Mellan (1598-1688), UCL Art Museum
Drawing from the concept of embodied knowledge in cognitive science, I am inclined to believe that the full depth of what Mellan felt and thought as captured in his mysterious line may be unlocked through the application of haptic technology (Low, 2020).
This was the primary subject of my Arts and Sciences Final Year Dissertation, supervised by Dr Kat Austen, the reason why I visited the UCL Art Museum early this year to meet with Dr Andrea Fredericksen, where I had my first encounter with The Face of Christ. The unique qualities and enigmatic nature of Mellan’s engraving were the primary reasons why I chose to use this artwork for the project.
Embodied knowledge refers to knowledge that is learnt and conveyed by the body, as an inseparable extension of the mind (Martínková, 2017). Neuroaesthetists Freedberg and Gallese (2007) take this further by suggesting that through embodied practices, we may be able to learn emotions felt by artists of the past.
Copying or mirroring the gestures used in the creation of artworks, they argue, could be a vehicle for us to empathize with long-dead artists. And if we think about it, this is not quite a crazy as it sounds; the motion and pattern of various marks or brushstrokes made by an artist is, after all, directly tied to their physical motion and what they were feeling when making the artwork.
Haptic technology, specifically capacitive touch sensors, was the tool I chose to allow a viewer to learn the gestures used in the creation of The Face of Christ. Haptic technology refers to any technology that can create an experience of touch by applying forces, vibrations, or motions to the user. You can find examples of haptic technology in every day life, including game controllers and joysticks.
Through an audio feedback loop, the device I designed takes in touch inputs from a viewer of the artwork and returns a religious-sounding choral soundtrack when the spiral gesture from the engraving is drawn correctly with a finger (Low, 2020). The spiral gesture was directly extracted from The Face of Christ with the help of a custom python script which made use of various image analysis libraries (Low, 2020).
Demonstration video of the artwork-viewer haptic interface (Low, 2020)
In this way, the device would teach you to trace the exact same line used by Mellan to draw the line of his masterpiece! There is still much to improve upon this very basic technology demonstrator, such as finding a way to convey pressure and associated line width, but the possibilities are certainly exciting. Like other tactile-based approaches to redesigning museum experiences, it is my hope that the technology will contribute to the ongoing effort to introduce more elements of touch and interactivity into exhibits and galleries (Howes, 2014).
Who knows, perhaps someday in the near future, we might even be able to mimic the stippling motion of Monet, or Pollock’s strong erratic strokes. The experience will probably not turn ordinary people into masters overnight, but it will bring us one step closer to seeing and, more importantly, feeling as they did.
Cherdieu, M., Palombi, O., Gerber, S., Troccaz, J. and Rochet-Capellan, A., 2017. Make Gestures to Learn: Reproducing Gestures Improves the Learning of Anatomical Knowledge More than Just Seeing Gestures. Frontiers in Psychology, [online] 8(1689).
Freedberg, D. and Gallese, V., 2007. Motion, emotion and empathy in esthetic experience. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, [online] 11(5), pp.197-203.
Howes, D., 2014. Introduction to Sensory Museology. The Senses and Society, [online] 9(3), pp.259-267.
Low, E., 2020. What Are The Possibilities Offered By Haptics In Enhancing Understanding Of Artworks? Developing A Prototype Artwork-Viewer Haptic Interface. Undergraduate. University College London.
Martínková, I., 2017. Body Ecology: Avoiding body–mind dualism. Loisir et Société / Society and Leisure, [online] 40(1), pp.101-112.
Raissis, P., 2014. The Veil Of Saint Veronica, 1649 By Claude Mellan. [online] Artgallery.nsw.gov.au.
Available at: www.artgallery.nsw.gov.au/collection/works/340.1997/?tab=about [Accessed 4 July 2020].
Like many people around the world, the UCL Culture team has spent the last few months collaborating with colleagues via Microsoft Teams. Now you can bring some of our amazing collections into your meetings. Click on the images below to see them at full size and then download them to your computer. You can then upload them to the virtual meeting platform of your choice. Enjoy!
Grant Museum of Zoology
The Grant Museum of Zoology is one of the oldest natural history collections in the UK and is the last remaining university natural history museum in London. Home to 68,000 zoological specimens, the collection is a unique window on the entire animal kingdom. The final image below is from our Micrarium, a beautiful back-lit cave of 2,300 microscope slides.
The Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology
The Petrie Museum contains over 80,000 objects and ranks among some of the world’s leading collections of Egyptian and Sudanese material. Below you can see our collection of Shabtis. They are small figures in adult male or female form created to carry out tasks in the afterlife.
UCL Art Museum
UCL Art Museum holds over 9,000 paintings, drawings, prints and sculptures dating from the 1490s to the present day. One of the the most important parts of the collection is the unique archive of works by staff and students from the Slade School of Fine Art.
Bloomsbury Theatre and Studio is the home of home of cutting-edge performance in the heart of London. You can see our upcoming shows here.
This post was written by Lisa Bull, MA Museum Studies, Institute of Archaeology.
Image: William Hogarth,The Idle ‘Prentice at Play in the Church Yard, during Divine Service, plate three from the series Industry and Idleness (1747)
Industry and Idlenessis one of a group of series defined as Hogarth’s “modern moral series”, for which he is arguably most famous.
The series includes A Rake’s Progress (1735), Marriage A-la Mode (1745) and The Four Stages of Cruelty (1751). He produced these works to show how depictions of modern urban life could unfold like a theatrical narrative.
This series was not commissioned; it was created by Hogarth to highlight the moral issues of society at that time that he felt were prevalent and needed attention. These prints were mass-produced due to advancing printmaking technology. Hogarth kept his designs relatively simple with the main message that weak morals led to a life of vice, crime and perhaps death.
Industry and Idlenessfollows the careers of two apprentices: Francis Goodchild, the ‘good’ apprentice and Tom Idle, the ‘bad’ apprentice. The series is 12 plates in total and it compares Idle and Goodchild in terms of their career and character development, but also their physical attributes as well.
What is Hogarth trying to say?
In Plate 3, titled The Idle ‘Prentice at Play in the Church Yard, during Divine Service,Hogarth is highlighting the issue of gambling. Tom Idle is playing hustle-cap in the street, outside a church while others are going inside for the service. He is playing with a group of questionable characters who look dishevelled and unruly. They are using a coffin as a playing table and are surrounded by gravestones and bones. They seem unaware of their surroundings, completely engaged in the game which likely involves money.
Hogarth wanted to highlight to working children the possible rewards of hard work and the risk of disaster if they did not apply themselves. He purposely kept the designs relatively simple to ensure not much explanation was needed, as his key audience was young people.
What is hustle-cap?
Hustle-cap is an old English game usually played in the streets, where coins are ‘hustled’ or shaken together in a cap before being tossed. It has been compared to the game of pitch-and-toss which is a general term that refers to games that involve chance, where bets are made in relation to the way in which coins fall (heads or tails) after being thrown.
The game involves guessing how coins (usually halfpence) will land after being thrown in a cap. The person who guesses correctly wins the money. In ‘The Idle ‘Prentice’, Tom Idle is attempting to cheat by hiding some of the half-pennies under the brim of his hat. Two of the characters on the right have seen this. It is suggested that there is betting involved as they are unaware of their surroundings and it looks tense with the expressions and stances of the characters. Additionally, there is a “beadle” (a church official) behind Idle who looks ready to strike him on the back with his cane as punishment for gambling.
How to play The game needs two players or two teams, some coins and a cap.
Decide the amount to include in the bet
Players decide which side they think most of the coins will face when thrown (up or down)
Place the coins inside a cap
Shake the cap
Turn the cap up onto a table
Count the number of halfpence facing-up and down
The player who guessed correctly wins all the coins
There may also be a version where players guess how many coins there will be e.g. facing-up and the person who guesses correctly wins the contents of the cap. This would allow more than two people to play.
This blog is written by a team of UCL Museum Studies students – Sarah Waite, Lok Hei Wong, Patricia Roberts and Yiting Fu – and draws upon their research project into the Slade School of Fine art historic sculpture prize, undertaken in collaboration with the UCL Art Museum as part of their MA degree.
VISIT THE SLADE SCULPTURE PRIZE DISPLAY IN UCL’s NORTH CLOISTERS on till 17 FEBRUARY 2020
See image credits below
We had the fantastic opportunity to focus our Collections Curatorship course project with UCL Art Museum on an area of the Slade collection that is under-researched. During our research, we uncovered this small bronze sculpture in the UCL Art Museum’s store. Bull (1951) was modelled by Rosemary Young (b.1930) , who was a student at the Slade from 1949 to 1953, and then cast by Reg Butler (1913-1931), who taught at the art school. The artwork won the Slade Sculpture Prize in 1951 and is the only prize-winning sculpture retained by the School and now part of UCL Art Museum’s Slade Collection . A highly sought after honour, to receive a Slade prize meant that the student’s work was recognised as exemplary by a panel of the most highly regarded artists and academics in Britain.
For Edward Allington photography was part and parcel of making, experiencing and understanding sculpture. He wasn’t alone in this. Sculptors worked with photography in the late 19th century and the bond between the two mediums dates back even further, to the birth of photography itself. Artists like Rodin and Brancusi experimented with the new medium of photography early on, documenting their practice, using it to communicate with their audiences and collectors, as well as exploring juxtapositions of works in the studio. Photographing classical sculpture was integral to the work of photography pioneers such as Henry Fox Talbot and Roger Fenton, whose work influenced the type of photography and lighting favoured by art historians and museum registrars.
Combining sculpture and photography for Allington would have also been inspired by the work of American artists in the second half of the 20th century such as the architectural interventions of Gordon Matta Clark – comprising of carved or sliced derelict suburban buildings, or the landscape interventions of Robert Smithson – undertaken in remote and uninhabited areas. Iconic site-specific interventions by these artists, into spaces and places that already exist, such as Matta Clark’s Splitting(1974) and Smithson’s Spiral Jetty (1970) would have reached Allington’s attention by way of a documentary photograph. It was the photograph that travelled and reached audiences far and wide. It was also the photograph that became the object of consumption. Allington, recognising that sculpture ultimately spends much of its life in storage or inaccessible, and therefore its visibility is mediated through photography, was determined to see photography become an integral part of his sculptural practice.
When Allington conceived of his small bronzes in the mid-1980s he was preoccupied with 19th century European parameters of scale – namely something small enough but with sufficient presence to occupy a space in a vitrine or a study of a connoisseur. He found inspiration in the small surrealist sculptures of Alberto Giacometti of the 1930s, that drew on the surrealist principles of assemblage, and produced a set of component forms which he proceeded to assemble into sculptures. These component forms, drew on Giacometti’s aesthetic language which itself assimilated African and Oceanic influences. Giacometti’s series of Disagreeable Objects (1931) often included phallic sensibilities and spikes. Echoes of this language are evident in Allington’s Euridke, 1986, pictured here.
Of the small bronzes Allington had written that it had been his intention to allow the small bronzes to ‘find their place in the world with the minimum positioning needed to clarify my intentions’ . By this we can assume he meant, simply placing them in aforementioned environments. However, as he became interested in increasing the scale of these works and formalising their position, giving rise to his own iconic series Pictured Bronzes, Allington embarked on one of the most significant collaborations of his career – with Edward Woodman. ‘Working with a photographer, […Woodman], I contrived to remove an ornament or object from the setting, and replace it with the bronze, which was then photographed. The completed work comprises the bronze, displayed upon a white shelf in the gallery, with a white framed photograph of the work in its ideal setting. Thus pictured, the bronze is complete’ . The exhibition features a film in which visitors can see Allington and Woodman’s collaborative working method 
A recurring theme for Allington was sculpture’s capacity to subvert its surroundings and for sculpture’s capacity to change as a result of its placing. He was interested in casting sculpture in a role that animated its environment and everything in it. He maintained that everywhere there is a space in which sculptures cohabit and interact with other things and that most sculptures are made with ideal settings in mind yet are more likely to exist in storage, a home, an institution or a photograph. The reference to the photograph was a nod at once to the conceptual work of the 1970s mentioned above, but also to the classical sculpture of ancient Greece, known to us only through descriptions in Greek texts and the Roman copies inspired by these descriptions. The copies were then subsequently photographed and enjoyed wide circulation by the European elite classes who embarked on Grand Tours to sites of cultural significance from the mid-17th century until the Napoleonic wars of the end of the 18th century.
Edward Allington, Euridike (1986), bronze, exhibition installation UCL Art Museum, Edward Allington: In pursuit of sculpture, 2019. Photograph: Mary Hinkley
UCL Art Museum is not a white cube. Far from it. Its form is that of a traditional print room, with cabinets filled with prints and drawings that date back to the 15th century and extend all the way to the 21st. Scattered around are examples of sculptures, various copies used historically at the Slade School of Fine art to aid instruction and training of young artists as well as Victorian busts. The museum walls are yellow, Farrow & Ball Print Room Yellow, to be precise, and these are populated with plaster models by the acclaimed British neo-classicist sculptor John Flaxman, revered by Allington. These walls are not a fit for Pictured Bronzes, works that are in dialogue with a ‘white cube’ aesthetic.
Allington was interested in Flaxman for many reasons. A son of the industrial revolution, Flaxman was a pioneer in the art of reproduction techniques using novel methods such as plaster. So significant was the plaster revolution that when his Italian contemporary and friend the renowned Anthony Canova himself turned to plaster, it is said to have marked the end of the reign of terracotta in Italian sculpture.
Reproduction techniques preoccupied Allington. They were central in his own meditations on authenticity, origins and truth that recur in his own writings . A frequent visitor to the museum and occasional collaborator, Allington undertook another site-specific exploration with the small bronzes. Together with a photographer, this time with Heini Schneebeli, he placed the small bronzes in UCL’s museums, including amidst skeletal reproductions in UCLs Grant Museum of Zoology, and amidst various artefacts in the UCL Petrie museum of Egyptian Archaeology. The image featured here reflects his purposeful placing of Euridke. In this work – the photograph that was later exhibited with the bronze sculpture, Allington was creating a conversation about sculpture and the art of reproduction and that which is lost. To the right of Euridike is a terracotta bust of George Grote, one of the key founders of UCL and a renowned Greek scholar. Grote also donated a significant collection that followed the principles of 17th century collecting where copies of works of significance carried value as collectables in their own right. These works were then used by art students at the Slade for the purpose of copying, itself instrumental to the process of learning. In terracotta sculpture the clay model is fired up and becomes the final work. When clay is used as the basis for a plaster cast the clay model is destroyed while the cast itself allows for endless reproductions. Above and behind Euridike are examples of Flaxman’s plaster models, themselves studies that would later be scaled up and translated into marble. To the left is a sculpture of Henry Crabb Robinson, another founder of UCL, friend of Flaxman and many of his contemporaries, who was instrumental in bringing Flaxman’s studio work to UCL after the artist’s death. His efforts resulted in thirty-nine of Flaxman’s models being set into the walls under UCL’s dome with the full scale model of St Michael in the centre. The sculpture of Crabb Robinson is painted plaster, the paint imitating bronze. Euridike is also painted, in a green that echoes the naturally occurring patina that forms on the surface of bronze as a result of aging and exposure to various environmental changes.
Euridike is a cast, its placing casts its surroundings into a story, a story about casting and other reproduction techniques, institutional history, art education. The resulting work ultimately challenges our ideas and beliefs about origins.
For the exhibition Edward Allington: In pursuit of sculpture we chose place Euridike in a similar positioning but as we were not reproducing Allington and Schneebeli’s casting, merely referencing it, we chose a different painted plaster sculpture from our collection, a copy of Hermes of Olympia. We think Allington would have approved seeing as the origins and attribution of the original sculpture are widely disputed and copies abound. The photograph is not a work of art but a documentation of our exhibition installation, photographed by Mary Hinkley, and is purposely distinct in format from Allington and Schneebeli’s work.
Edward Allington: In pursuit of sculpture is part of UCL’s Year of Sculpture and continues till the 7th June, Tues-Fri 1-5pm. It is reviewed in Apollo Magazine here.
 Edward Allington Pictured Bronzes, with essays by Shin Ichi Nakasawa and James Roberts, Kohji Ogura Gallery Nagoya Japan in co-operation with the Lisson Gallery London, 1991, appendix p.V.
 Pictured Bronzes, appendix p.V.
 Edward Allington: A Sculptor at Work, edited and directed by Peter Colman for the Henry Moore Centre for Study of Sculpture by Leeds University Television in 1993.
 See for example, Edward Allington, ‘Venus a Go Go, To Go’ in Sculpture and its Reproductions, eds. Anthony Hughes and Erich Ranfft, London: Reaktion Books, 1997, pp.152-167.
Today’s entry has been written by Viktoria Espelund. Viktoria gained her MA in History of Art From UCL and has worked with the UCL Art Museum team throughout her studies as a volunteer and later in a professional capacity as well. We are thrilled to see her knowledge and expertise gain a wider audience through her recent contribution as a writer to a current exhibition at the Barber Institute of Fine Art in Birmingham. Her experienced is shared in this post.
Always Now (LDUCS 7876) is a print by the British painter and printmaker Tess Jaray RA (b. 1937, Austria). This print is one of nine works that are held of Tess Jaray in UCL Art Museum’s collections and is incredibly special to me, being the first ever work I saw by the artist now showing new work at the Barber Institute in Birmingham. The aquatint derives from a painting completed in 1982. Whereas the painting is painted with a soft colour palette of lilacs and blues against a cream-coloured background, the print has been executed in bright turquoise on paper.
Tess Jaray, Always Now, 1982, aquatint, UCL Art Museum LDUCS 7876
Tess Jaray has been an influential figure in the British art world since the 1960s. As both a Senior Royal Academician and an Honorary Fellow of the RIBA, her career spans more than fifty years, throughout which time she has produced a vast body of work. Jaray arrived with her family to the UK as an infant in 1938 as part of the flight of Jewish refugees from the Nazis. Aged sixteen she embarked on her journey as an artist and enrolled first at Saint Martin’s School of Art in London later at the Slade School of Fine Art (1957-1960), studying under the likes of William Coldstream, Bartos Dos Santos and Ernst Gombrich. Jaray has further been a great influence on younger British artists through her writing and the thirty years spent teaching at the Slade (1968-1999). (more…)
Today’s entry has been written by Emeline Kaddour, as part of her History of Art Material Studies (HAMS) placement at UCL Art Museum. During her placement Kaddour catalogued our Tomás Harris holdings in preparation for a pop-up exhibition and lecture by Inigo Jones, freelance writer, on ‘Who was Tomás Harris?’ The event was well-attended, and included Neil MacGregor, founding director of the Humboldt Forum in Berlin and former director of the National Gallery and British Museum.
Today’s object of the week is a self-portrait by the artist, art dealer, collector, writer and double-spy Tomás Harris (1908-1964). It is owned by the UCL Art Museum as part of a larger collection of Harris’ works which include an early drawing, 15 prints (8 of them were recently accessioned), 26 printing plates and an oil painting. The museum also holds Goya prints that were formerly part of Harris’ own print collection.
My object of the week is a plaster cast of a child’s leg deformed by the disease rickets (UCL Pathology Collection P59b), included in the Disrupters and Innovators exhibition in the display case that features UCL women scientists. Amongst these scientists is Dame Harriette Chick (1875-1977) who is credited with finding the cause and cure for rickets. Her many contributions to preventative medicine were recognised with both a CBE and a DBE.
This object gives me pause to ask, how were women scientists perceived in the early twentieth century? What anti-feminist sentiments did they have to contend with and how did they go on to make groundbreaking and lasting discoveries despite the persistence of the anti-feminist agenda, at the time labelled anti-suffragist?
Throughout my career in museum zoology I have detected (and contributed to) a certain snobbery when it comes to some species of animal. It seems that as far as museum displays are concerned, not all animal specimens were created equally. Our new exhibition – opening today – seeks to address this.
The Museum of Ordinary Animals tells the story of the boring beasts that have changed the world: the mundane creatures in our daily lives, including dogs, pigeons, cats, cows, chickens and mice. These animals are rarely represented in natural history museum displays. They are not special enough. Do we even need to go to a museum to see animals that we can find on our plates, on our laps and on our streets? People would rather see dinosaurs, dodos and giant whales.
Domestic dog skulls. LDUCZ-Z1046 and LDUCZ-Z1338b Humans’ first domestication was that of dogs from wolves. Today humans have forced the descendants of wolves to become the most anatomically variable of all species.
Nevertheless, this exhibition puts these everyday species front and centre. It investigates some of the profound impacts they have had on humanity and the natural world, how they were created, and the extraordinary things we have learned from them. (more…)