The Mourners: A Unique Digital Archive
With the growing use of Digital Humanities, the question is whether or not this online format can aid scholars in revealing anything new, what can technology allow us to do that we couldn’t before? How can technology aid us in moving beyond the traditional forms of study? Digital archives are becoming increasingly common, creating open access to sources that previously would have been unavailable to most scholars. Not only do these materials become widely available from anywhere, but they can also be widely interpreted. Most frequently digital archives are serving as online repositories for text, such as the Early English Books Online, which displays over 125,000 texts from 15th through 17th century Britain, or the current Google sponsored project to digitize the Dead Sea Scrolls. However, digital archives are not limited to text.
The Mourners (http://www.themourners.org) is an online museum exhibit sponsored by the Musée des Beaux-Arts de Dijon and the French Regional & American Museum Exchange. What is unique about this visual digital archive is that it takes a single piece of artwork, the tomb of a French Duke and breaks it down into its composite pieces. The tomb itself is the resting place of the second Duke of Burgundy, John the Fearless and his wife Margaret of Bavaria. The tomb was commissioned by their son, the third Duke of Burgundy, Philip the Good. John the Fearless ruled from 1404 to 1419 in the French region of Burgundy, and was famous for his open conflict with Louis of Orleans over control of the throne. He was assassinated in 1419 by the Dauphin after an attempt to capture Paris. The tomb itself is made from black marble and white alabaster, and was designed by Huerta and Moiturier. The piece was commissioned to look like the tomb of the first Duke of Burgundy, Phillip the Bold. The unique feature of these pieces is the arcade that scrolls along the bottom. Within the small arches are 40 mourners, each individually designed and carved. Some have their faces covered, others are holding bibles, a few have rosaries, and all are in grief. There are two choir boys, two deacons, one bishop, two cantors, two Carthusian monks, and the rest are mourners in varying styles of cloaks with a variety of objects.
It is this mourning procession which has been given the attention of the online project. The digitization of the tomb came about as part of the renovation process before it was sent to the United States for a museum tour. In 1792, during the French Revolution, the tomb was nearly destroyed and suffered a lot of damage. In order to restore it to its former glory, each piece was removed and cleaned. It was during this period that photos were taken and detailed analysis was conducted.
Each of these pieces has been individually digitized from over 14,000 photos, and if you own a pair of 3D glasses you can even see them online in 3D format. The detail that can be gleaned from the online format is incredible giving us a privileged view of all their details and intricacies. A better view could only be gained from being allowed to directly handle the statues. Not only does this only format provide a lasting legacy for the statues and preserve their integrity, but they can also be enjoyed online across the entire world.
For the humanities, this also gives scholars a view into funerary rituals of late medieval France. From the online mourners we can discern hair style, dress, and see what the ideal mourning procession would have consisted of. Already, the tomb has become integrated into classroom studies, as seen in the Majesty, Memory and Mourning class at Southern Methodist University in Texas, which was based on the statues while they were visiting at the Dallas Museum of Art. What is wonderful about this type of class, is that even though it was based on art that could be seen at the museum, the students can still access the pieces online even after the exhibit has moved on. This type of project opens up doors for both digital archives and the future of education.
The tomb will be touring the United States until 2012. Details can be found on the website at http://www.themourners.org/exhibitions.html.
For more details on the construction of the tomb you can visit http://www.framemuseums.org/sites/john-the-fearless/
For information on the Dukes of Burgundy visit http://www.themourners.org/pdf/The_Dukes_Of_Burgundy.pdf
For the syllabus and website of the SMU course based on the mourners visit