6. Conclusion

This article has sought to demonstrate the potential of heritage technologies, particularly virtual models, as research tools within historical archaeology. It has shown how digital models can be developed that move beyond the aesthetically-pleasing, but intellectually restrictive, photorealistic reconstructions that have tended to dominate the field in recent years. By engaging critically with contemporary debates in heritage technology, particularly issues of transparency, a digital model of the Stratford-upon-Avon Guild Chapel has been created which functions as a research tool, through which the user can explore and assess the validity of the analysis and interpretations presented within the article text. Moreover, the format of this article also provides an innovative example of how paradata can be placed at the core of scholarly debate, rather than being relegated to a series of technical appendices within the model. In this way, the publication provides an important model for the use of virtual models within the discipline of archaeology more widely.

The visualisation of the Stratford-upon-Avon Guild Chapel has allowed the international significance of this building to be revealed in two important ways. First, the detailed analysis of its late 15th-century scheme of wall paintings has revealed it to be one of the most coherent and important examples of late medieval mercantile and guild patronage of its day. The scheme was used to make a powerful statement about the status and identify of its patron, Hugh Clopton, and his affiliation to the Guild of the Holy Cross. The Stratford scheme is one of the finest reflections of late medieval preoccupations with the 'ars moriendi', created on the eve of the Reformation. It also reveals how apparently 'provincial' sites such as Stratford-upon-Avon were connected to a European tradition of Gothic art, via the dissemination of iconographies such as the 'Dance of Death' from its original context in the Cemetery of the Innocents, Paris, via St Paul's cloister in London, by the patronage of men such as Hugh Clopton. The analysis of the scheme sheds important light on the link between late medieval wall paintings and devotional manuscripts and printed sources, such as The Golden Legend. But close analysis of the images also reveals the interpretative and creative process behind the creation of such painted schemes, suggesting the existence of more ephemeral textual and graphic sources and oral traditions, through which such sources were translated into artistic form.

Second, the digital model has emphasised the significance and potential of the close, critical analysis of antiquarians and their drawings in understanding the changing and multiple interpretations of buildings and decorative schemes within historical archaeology. The biographical analysis of the Stratford antiquarians has revealed the important networks of patronage and intellectual exchange which informed this tradition from the 16th to the 20th centuries. The model shows how different antiquarians drew upon, or reacted against, the work of their predecessors, opening up multiple and alternative interpretations of the scheme that reflected contemporary intellectual traditions. Stratford-upon-Avon also provides a microcosm of the development of building recording within the discipline, from John Leland's textual descriptions of the 16th century, to the pioneering use of scaled drawings and photography in the 19th and 20th century work of Thomas Fisher and Wilfrid Puddephat. Although the Guild Chapel is therefore of significance because of its links to some of the most important antiquarians of the day, such as John Stow, J.G. Nichols or E.W. Tristram, it also reveals the important role of 'amateur' scholars, such as Robert Wheler, or Wilfrid Puddephat, within the antiquarian tradition.

Throughout, the aim of this article has been to present the archaeological and historical data transparently, to guide the user through the evidence in the digital model, and through the critical interdisciplinary analysis of architectural fabric, decorative schemes, archival records and drawings. In this way, the article and model also seek to provide a ground-breaking example of the way in which digital technologies can be harnessed within the arts and humanities more widely.


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