3.3 The Guild Chapel digital model and its significance

The digital model that forms the focus of this article is innovative in the way in which it seeks to apply the principles of transparency and paradata discussed above within the field of historical archaeology (Bentkowska-Kafel and Denard 2012). Rather than reconstructing 'the' appearance of the Guild Chapel in the 16th century as a source of illustration for a textual narrative, it develops the model explicitly to present the paradata of the Guild Chapel paintings (Figure 16). It achieves this within the model by layering the antiquarian drawings of the paintings made by Thomas Fisher in 1804, E.W.Tristram in 1928-9 and Wilfrid Puddephat in the 1950s over each other, so that their similarities and differences can be compared directly by the user. The new digital model allows the user to choose their own, non-linear, path through the model and its accompanying paradata, harnessing the unique qualities of the structure of the Internet Archaeology journal format to do so. For example, it is possible to stand in the nave and view the paintings on an antiquarian-by-antiquarian basis, making comparisons based on subject matter, but also by spatial location. The user is free to investigate the antiquarian records in any order and from either the nave or the chancel, moving between the spaces, making their own comparisons, building up their own understandings and meanings within the framework of the article. What is important is not that the paintings can be viewed in their spatial contexts, but the way in which users are allowed to view and experience those paintings and their accompanying paradata for themselves.

Model thumbnailFigure 16: The digital model of the Guild Chapel by Anthony Masinton, based on the original model created by Geoff Arnott. Select the thumbnail to launch the model. The Unity web player plugin is required for some browsers.

This creates the kind of research tool which Barceló (2001) has described as a 'functional model', and Forte (2000) a 'cognitive model'. The text of the article is also used innovatively to communicate the 'paradata' behind the model itself. Section 4 provides the user with a detailed, critical comparison of the antiquarians' drawings and textual descriptions of the paintings, with the aim of informing and enhancing the user's assessment of the validity and reliability of the different drawings included within the model. Section 5 discusses the biography and historical context of the antiquarians responsible for the drawings, in chronological order. Once again, this allows the viewer to make a critical assessment of the motivations, methods and interpretations of the different drawings (after de Rijcke and Beaulieu 2007). Here, the model reminds the user of the 'gaps' between the reality of the past and the interpretative processes of recording and representation (Bateman 2006). It also provides a powerful illustration of the origins and development of recording within the antiquarian tradition (Pearce 2007).

The technology used to develop the interactive digital model as a research tool is a computer-game engine, Unity, in this instance. Computer games excel at presenting a richly visualised and immersive environment which possesses an inherent narrative, whether overt or implicit. The user does not read this narrative so much as they experience it — a form of communication that preferences the (virtual) material over the textual and is therefore especially suited to an archaeological and art-historical subject. This is achieved through balancing the narrative imposed by the game's creators and the free will of the user. The narrative is delivered as a collaboration between creators and user, with the aim of producing new narratives based on what the creators present, how they make it available to the user, and the user's own construction of meaning based on their experience of the game. While the present visualisation does not claim to provide such a subtle experience or way of delivering its narrative, it has borrowed these concepts and incorporated them in an innovative way, into its design.

The visualisations of the Guild Chapel paintings presented in the model and analysed in the text reveal its international significance as one of the finest examples of mercantile and guild artistic patronage in late medieval Northern Europe. However, it is the decision to place transparency and paradata at the heart of the model and its accompanying article that makes this a ground-breaking model, of relevance not only to the digital heritage field but also the wider archaeological community. We hope that the model, and our findings, will be made available to visitors to the Guild Chapel through future development of the Friends of the Guild Chapel website as well as a mobile phone application.


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