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Museum International

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Derivative Narratives: The Multiple Lives of a

Masterpiece on the Internet

Helena Barranha

To cite this article: Helena Barranha (2018) Derivative Narratives: The Multiple Lives of a
Masterpiece on the Internet, Museum International, 70:1-2, 22-33, DOI: 10.1111/muse.12190

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Published online: 11 Jan 2019.

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The Multiple Lives
of a Masterpiece
on the Internet
by Helena Barranha
22 | MUSEUM international
elena Barranha has a Master’s Degree in the
Management of Cultural Heritage and a Ph.D.
in Architecture. She is Assistant Professor at
the Instituto Superior Técnico, Universidade de Lisboa,
and a Researcher at the Institute of Art History,
Universidade Nova de Lisboa. She was the director
of the National Museum of Contemporary Art-Museu
do Chiado from 2009 to 2012, and the coordinator
of the ‘unplace project—a museum without a place’
(2014‑2015). Her current research focuses on art
museums and digital cultures, and she has published
widely on these topics, both in Portugal and abroad.
She is a member of Access Culture, ICOM Portugal
and the Europeana Network Association.

© Courtesy of Martín La Spina

MUSEUM international | 23
he presence of art museums on the Internet dates back to the emergence of
the Internet itself. Leading international institutions in this field, such as the
Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the Louvre Museum in Paris or
the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, have been launching and consistently aug-
menting their Websites since the 1990s. Through the ‘Wayback Machine’ of
Internet Archive (2018), we can observe how the first versions of these mu-
seum Websites already included a section specifically dedicated to exploring
the collections. While only a small number of artworks were highlighted and
illustrated with images, in those early years, the recent demands of museum man-
agement and curatorial practices led to a systematic approach to digitisation, which
gradually contributed to increasing the number of photographic reproductions avail-
able on institutional Websites. As stated in the Europeana Impact Playbook:
The digitisation of physical heritage The digitisation of cultural heritage collections has been going on for several decades
objects enables them to move out of now, promising unprecedented potential for libraries, museums and archives to fulfil
storage rooms, library shelves, and file their public mission of spreading knowledge and culture to the benefit and enjoyment
drawers, and land in the hands of the of all citizens. Over the years, we’ve digitized millions of books, paintings and (audio-
world’s citizens. When cultural heritage visual) archives to preserve them for future generations, develop new insights and al-
is digital, there is nothing standing low others to create new works using all the advantages of new (digital) technologies
in the way of sharing and reusing it (Verwayen et al. 2017, p.4).
(Sanderhoff 2014, p.9). The situation is constantly changing, both in qualitative and quantitative terms. Just
as image resolution is always improving, so too has the total number of items ac-
cessible on digital platforms risen to impressive heights: The Metropolitan Museum
of Art Website currently displays more than 450,000 records from its collection, of
which almost 320,000 correspond to ‘artworks with image’ and, through Rijksstudio
online, visitors can browse through approximately 636,000 artworks (The Met 2018;
Rijksmuseum 2018).

Museums and ‘open culture’

Imuseum databases with multiple levels Aof information and communica- Dture’, this article also argues in favour
nterestingly enough, public access to t the same time, the rapid evolution rawing upon this vision of ‘open cul-

of information and high-resolution im- tions technology has fuelled the debate of broader online access to museum col-
ages is only one aspect of the impact of about the digitisation of museum col- lections, as a means of promoting pub-
digital technology on cultural heritage. lections and the role of the Internet as a lic engagement with cultural heritage,
Following the exponential growth in driver for the democratisation of access digital literacy, knowledge and creativi-
Internet and social media users, muse- to culture. While some institutions have ty. Furthermore, since many institutions
ums have also been reinforcing their po- expressed concern about providing open have already responded to the challeng-
sitions on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram access to digital reproductions of art- es of digitising and putting a significant
and YouTube, creating specific activities works, considering that this might con- part of their collection on the Web, both
for these platforms, which are not neces- travene the rules of copyright protection through their own Websites and through
sarily a reflection of what is taking place and pave the way for abusive appropria- common or collaborative platforms such
in the ‘real’ space. Therefore, networked tion, others have argued that the free on- us Wikipedia, Europeana and Google
cultures have expanded the notion of the line circulation of images and data is an Arts & Culture, this essay emphasises
‘virtual’ museum just as much as the first intrinsic and inescapable manifestation the importance of stimulating different
Websites have expanded the scope of the of contemporary culture. interpretations of the artworks.
museum as an institution.

Ipaid particular attention to open ac-

n this sense, the European Union has

cess policies and, in 2011, Neelie Kroes,

then Vice-President of the European
Commission responsible for the Digital
Agenda, urged ‘cultural institutions to
open up control of their data, and to
make digital copies of public domain
works easily accessible and re-usable’
and noted that ‘giving access to our
common heritage, ensuring that it is pre-
served, but also that it is used and bene-
fits society, is at the very heart of cultur-
al institutions’ raison d’être’ (Kroes 2011,

24 | MUSEUM international
Public domain and re-use

ne of the most immediate conse-
quences of sharing digital content
on the Web is (re-)use, which is direct-
ly connected with the notion of ‘public
domain’. According to Europeana, ‘[T]he
Public Domain Mark (PDM) is applied
to Digital Objects which are no longer
protected by copyright’ and can there-
fore ‘be used by anyone without any re-
strictions’ (Europeana Pro 2018). When a
work falls into the public domain it may
be used in two different ways: ‘it can be
reproduced or made available in its orig-
inal form (non-derivative use), or it can
be enriched by the follow-on artist who
re-uses it creating new work (derivative
use)’ (EUIPO 2017, p.18). In this context,
a ‘derivative work’ can be described as:
[…] a work based upon the Work,
or upon the Work and other pre‑existing
works, such as a translation, musical
arrangement, dramatization,
fictionalization, motion picture version,
sound recording, art reproduction,
abridgment, condensation, or any
other form in which the Work may
be recast, transformed, or adapted
(FIPR 2003, p.2).

Iartworks identified as being in the pub-

n principle, only the digital images of

lic domain should be the subject of cre-

ative re-use. However, when museums
make images available on the Internet
Fig. 1. Domenico Ghirlandaio (Domenico Bigordi, 1448‑1494):
there is, in fact, no way to prevent uses Portrait of Giovanna degli Albizzi Tornabuoni, 1489-1490.
that do not comply with the legal frame- Madrid, Museo Nacional Thyssen-Bornemisza. Mixed media on panel.
work. Consequently, when we search 77 × 49 cm. Dimension with frame: 98 × 71.5 × 13 cm. Inv. N.: 1935.6.
for a certain artwork on the Internet, © 2018. Museo Nacional Thyssen‑Bornemisza/Scala, Florence
the results often include not only a huge
number of digital images of the original,

Iing of the problem, this text focuses on

but also many variations and remixes, The Internet is organised in a less n order to achieve a better understand-
some of which may correspond to mer- historicist way than traditional
chandising products, advertising cam- libraries and museums. The most a representative case study, the Portrait
paigns or other institutional initiatives. interesting aspect of the Internet of Giovanna Tornabuoni by Domenico
However, the online references to an art- as an archive is precisely the Ghirlandaio, a masterpiece from the
work are not limited to, or conditioned possibilities for decontextualisation collection of the Thyssen-Bornemisza
by, corporate or curatorial narratives. On and recontextualisation through Museum, in Madrid (Fig.  1). Based on
the contrary, a search by title and author the operations of cut and paste an array of online sources and email in-
frequently leads to a wide range of alter- that the Internet offers its users terviews, the aim of the present study
native texts and visual experiments. (Groys 2016). is to track the dissemination of this
Renaissance painting on the Internet,

Atection is undoubtedly a critical Bthese new cultural dynamics? Are

lthough intellectual property pro- ut how are museums dealing with taking into account both its digital re-
productions and derivative projects. As
matter when it comes to art museum col- these institutions exploring the possibil- is the case with many other artworks,
lections, the purpose of this article is not ities of linking and contrasting the origi- the online circulation of Giovanna’s por-
to analyse copyright issues, but rather to nal work with derivative experiments? Is trait has paved the way for multiple uses,
discuss the advantages of online access the algorithmic structure of web brows- leading to different reinterpretations and
to multiple reconfigurations of the same ing reflected in the ways that museum recreations of the painting.
artwork. As Boris Groys has pointed out: Websites aggregate data, images and vid-
eos related with a specific artwork?

MUSEUM international | 25

Tracking a masterpiece on the Internet:
Domenico Ghirlandaio’s Portrait of Giovanna Tornabuoni

Ations for re-use are obviously high- Fnent exhibition, Ghirlandaio’s mas-
lthough the contexts and motiva- orming part of the museum’s perma- Searching for Giovanna’s image
on the Internet

ly diverse, the main focus of the present terpiece is ‘a fine example of 15th centu- n order to analyse the dissemination of
article is the independent artistic proj- ry Florentine portraiture’ (Alonso n.d.). Giovanna’s portrait on the Web and to
ects that are accessible on the Internet, As explained on the museum’s Website: identify artistic reinterpretations or de-
leaving aside other experiments such as This beautiful image is set against rivative works, my point of departure
merchandising objects commissioned by a background with a niche containing is a generic image search on Google, in
the museum, as well as other commer- various objects referring to the sitter’s August 2017. It is important to note here
cial projects. It would certainly be inter- refined tastes and character […]. that successive repetitions of the same
esting to analyse and compare those de- The sitter poses upright, in strict profile search, at different dates, have led to dif-
rivative objects but the intention here is and bust length with the arms in repose ferent results, not only because the data
to address the following questions: apart and the hands joined. In the face available online is being permanently
from the official narratives, what other and body, the features and proportions updated, but also because Google search
stories have been built up around this are idealised […] based on theoretical algorithms change thousands of times
beautiful painting? What new artworks principles and examples taken every year (SEJ 2018). Consequently,
have been inspired by Giovanna’s por- from classical antiquity (Borobia n.d.). some of the derivative works previously
trait? What other lives is this mysterious discovered during the research process

Tty is enhanced by a cartellino on the

character living on the Internet? he idealisation of Giovanna’s beau- cannot be found today. Nonetheless,
each time the search was repeated, I

TAlbizzi Tornabuoni by Domenico

he Portrait of Giovanna degli right side of the composition with an was able to observe that the museum
epigram by Martial, which reads: ‘Art, if Website, Wikipedia and Wikimedia
Ghirlandaio is one of the most import- only you could reproduce the character Commons have always figured among
ant works of the Thyssen-Bornemisza and the spirit? There would be no finer the first 10 results.
National Museum in Madrid, where it portrait in the world’ (Borobia n.d.).

is admired by hundreds of visitors every n the past few years, the Thyssen-

day. Forming part of the so-called ‘Paseo iovanna degli Albizzi was born on Museum has regular-
del Arte’, the city’s main cultural axis, the 18 December, 1468, and married ly updated and extended its Website,
museum opened to the public in 1992, Lorenzo Tornabuoni in 1486, but she and currently the ‘Browse Collection’
in the former Villahermosa Palace, after died two years later, during childbirth. Webpage comprises approximately 1,100
the architectural renovation designed by Her enigmatic portrait was painted only artworks, from the late 13th century to
Raphael Moneo. A year later, the original after her death and, as the museum artis- the 1980s. Statistics show that, over the
private collection, put together by father tic director, Guillermo Solana observes: last 12 months, the Portrait of Giovanna
and son, Heinrich and Hans Heinrich ‘Giovanna’s life began largely after her Tornabuoni was the fourth most pop-
Thyssen-Bornemisza, was acquired by death. She led a posthumous life through ular digitised artwork available on the
the Spanish government and, in 2004, images’ (Solana 2009). This idea is par- museum’s Website, with a total of 12,947
over 200 works from the Carmen ticularly suggestive when transposed to page views and 594 downloads for both
Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection were the contemporary context of network the Spanish and the English versions
also incorporated into the museum’s cultures. (Table 1).2
permanent exhibition, thus enhancing

Apainting was digitised early on and Ntant at the Photographic Archive,

the international relevance of the insti- central piece of the collection, the atalia Gastelut, Conservation Assis­
tution. With nearly 1,000 works on dis-
play, the museum collection offers an is now available in high resolution on the explains that the museum has estab-
overview of western art history, from the museum’s Website, as well as Europeana, lished a partnership with an external im-
13th to the late 20th century, including Wikipedia and Google Arts & Culture. age library because of the large number
all major artistic movements and such At the same time, the museum also dis- of requests they receive (Gastelut 2018).
leading artists as Dürer, Raphael, Titian, seminates Giovanna’s picture on social She also confirms that the museum does
Rubens, Rembrandt, Caravaggio, Manet, media, with various posts on Facebook, not keep track of the (re)uses made of
Renoir, Cézanne, Van Gogh, Gauguin, Pinterest, Instagram and Twitter. the downloaded images, in that it would
Kandinsky, Picasso, Hopper and Rothko Because tracking this artwork on social be virtually impossible, and points out
(Museo Nacional Thyssen-Bornemisza media would require specialised tools the popularity of Ghirlandaio’s paint-
2018). and processes, I essentially concentrated ing, adding that the image requests are
on Websites and blogs, including com- mostly related to its possible use in pub-
mon and collaborative platforms, such lications, both academic and works of
as Google Arts & Culture and Europeana fiction. The museum is hardly ever con-
Collections. tacted about more personal or ‘free’ uses
of the picture, such as independent artis-
tic projects (Gastelut 2018).

26 | MUSEUM international
Top 10 Artwork Downloads

1 Salvador Dalí. 1944. Dream Caused by the Flight of a Bee around a Pomegranate 1025
a Second before Waking

2 Edgar Degas. 1877-1879. Swaying Dancer (Dancer in Green) 642

3 Edward Hopper. 1931. Hotel Room 600

4 Domenico Ghirlandaio. 1489-1490. Portrait of Giovanna degli Albizzi Tornabuoni 594

5 George Grosz. 1916-1917. Metropolis 537

6 Wassily Kandinsky. 1923. Delicate Tension. No. 85 449

7 Paul Gauguin. 1892. Mata Mua (In Olden Times) 437

8 Paul Klee. 1921. Revolving House 435

9 Roy Lichtenstein. 1963. Woman in Bath 426

10 André Derain. 1906. Waterloo Bridge 359

Table 1. The 10 most popular artworks according to the number of downloads from the museum website,
between 1 June 2017 and 31 May 2018. Source: Museo Nacional Thyssen-Bornemisza. Courtesy of Eugenia Alonso.

Aclearly shows that the institution of- Oplementary TWebsite nor the common institu-
perusal of the museum’s Website n Google Arts & Culture, the com- o summarise, neither the museum
resources asso­ ciated
fers an array of interesting resources on with this artwork are more limited than tional platforms that propose Giovanna’s
Ghirlandaio’s masterpiece. Firstly, the on the museum Website. Under the image mention any correspondences
artwork is accompanied by two writ- ‘Recommended’ heading, we can find with recent artistic projects inspired by,
ten and audio descriptions, together a set of 10 paintings from other partner or derived from, this Renaissance mas-
with two high quality images: one avail- institutions, algorithmically chosen ac- terpiece. Nevertheless, and in spite of
able for download and another in super cording to the following criteria: ‘creat- its being labelled as ‘In Copyright’ on
high resolution using the Second Canvas ed around the same time’, ‘from related Europeana Collections, this painting
tool, which reveals the smallest details in movement’, ‘uses same medium’, ‘depicts has been widely reproduced and recre-
the painting (Museo Nacional Thyssen- same object’ and ‘visually similar work’ ated by contemporary artists.
Bornemisza 2018a). (Google Arts & Culture 2018).
Interpretations and remixes

dditionally, the online visitor can uropeana Collections feature s mentioned previously, a generic
undertake a virtual tour of the ex- eight results related to ‘Giovanna search for Giovanna’s portrait on
hibition room where Giovanna’s por- Tornabuoni’, from various cultural insti- Google leads to a huge number of alter-
trait is on display, download the guides tutions, including Niccolò Fiorentino’s native results, which are linked to pri-
of thematic visits that include this art- medal and Ghirlandaio’s fresco for vate Websites, blogs, video channels or
work, learn from a technical study of the the Tornabuoni chapel in Santa Maria social media posts. The reinterpretations
painting produced by the Conservation Novella, Florence, which are often men- and remixes of the painting that can be
Department or watch the video of the tioned in historical accounts of the por- mapped through a Google algorithmic
aforementioned talk given by the ar- trait as having been decisive in determin- search are extremely diverse in their
tistic director of the museum (Museo ing the identity of the subject portrayed. expression and materialisation, rang-
Nacional Thyssen-Bornemisza 2018b; Focusing on the painting itself, the pre- ing from very spontaneous drawings to
Solana 2009). In terms of related art- sentation of the artwork is followed by a more elaborate compositions, and from
works and objects, the visitor is invited link to ‘Similar Items’, but the problem physical objects to native digital works.
to observe four other paintings from the here is that the overwhelming number
same period, also held in the collection. of results (more than 813,000) hardly al-
One last option leads to the museum lows for any comparisons (Europeana
online shop, in which there are 17 ob- Collections 2018). However, a search for
jects related to Giovanna Tornabuoni, ‘Giovanna Tornabuoni’ applying ‘time
most of them derivative merchandising period’ filters yields no results after 1900,
products. and this is a clear indication that we can-
not find derivative or related contempo-
rary artworks on that platform.

MUSEUM international | 27

Fig. 2. Miquel Cardil. 2010. Stick Figure Museum of Western Painting. © Courtesy of Miquel Cardil

Tsisted of a systematic identification Flection was limited to seven exam- Tcentral to the work of Sebastiano
he second phase of my research con- or the purposes of this article, the se- he idea of historical collection is also

and selection of related artistic projects, ples that illustrate different creative ap- Navarra, particularly in his Puzzle Art
based on two fundamental criteria: (a) proaches and media. Notwithstanding Series. The Italian artist graduated from
the originality of the artistic proposal the diversity of the works selected, the the famous Brera Fine Arts Academy in
and (b) its integration into a thematic authors share a common interest in the Milan, but his interest in visual remix-
line repeatedly or continuously explored reinterpretation of the great masterpiec- es dates back to the 1940s, when, at the
by the author. These factors helped to es of European painting. In some cases, age of 16, he began ‘“photoshopping”
separate consistent artistic experiments the derivative creations are even part portraits of famous people by hand’
from a huge number of irrelevant publi- of alternative digital museums, such as (Miaja Gallery 2015). A key theme in
cations and curiosities that populate the the Stick Figure Museum of Western Navarra’s work is the legacy of the Italian
Internet. Painting, which recreates several icons Renaissance grandmasters, with a spe-
of art history (Cardil n.d.). The author, cial focus on Raphael, Michelangelo,

Aauthors and their presence in art

dditionally, the biographies of the Miquel Cardil, started this project at the Leonardo da Vinci and Ghirlandaio. ‘His
end of his career ‘with the aim of focus- dilemma, he confesses, is how to trans-
galleries or other organisations in the ing on processes of image simplification’ late those personalities—the Greats—
cultural or academic sector were taken (Cardil 2018). into the world of today and make them
into account in order to contextualise pop-culturally relevant, so that they can

Cfor more than 30 years and, now re-

the projects and to assess their relevance ardil worked as a graphic designer live with him in this lifetime’ (Miaja
for the present study. In accordance Gallery 2015). In the interview conduct-
with this methodology, a first selection tired, has maintained and updated this ed for this study, he stated that one of
of derivative experiments was complet- Website since 2009. Although the au- his favourite paintings is the Portrait of
ed in November 2017 and presented as thor explains that he decided to work on Giovanna Tornabuoni, which he knows
an ignite talk at the Sharing is Caring Ghirlandaio’s painting after visiting the by heart. However, when he decided to
International Conference in Aarhus Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum, he clar- reinvent this artwork, he carried out a
(Sharing is Caring 2017). Although the ifies that his version of Giovanna’s por- detailed study of digital reproductions
research has been subsequently devel- trait, just like all the other stick figures in retrieved from the Internet (Vonderen
oped and updated, the first series of his Website, were based on digital repro- and Navarra 2017) (Fig. 3).
interviews with the artists took place ductions available on the Internet (Cardil
during the preparation of the conference. 2018). Throughout his career Miquel
Cardil collaborated with several design
schools, mainly the Escuela Superior de
Imagen y Diseño (IDEP) in Barcelona,
and he knows that the creative approach
of his Stick Figure Museum has been ad-
opted for academic exercises in design
courses (Cardil 2018). Interestingly, this
confirms the impact of his derivative ex-
periments (Fig. 2).

28 | MUSEUM international
Fig. 3. Sebastiano Navarra. 2013. Those Flowers So Beautiful Fig. 4. Martín La Spina. 2005. Giovanna Tornabuoni
(Domenico Ghirlandaio—Portrait of Giovanna Tornabuorni). together with Chameleons. Oil on canvas,
Acrylic on Wood, 122cm × 122cm. © Courtesy of Sebastiano Navarra 100cm × 70cm. © Courtesy of Martín La Spina

Ctheir circulation on the Internet Tportrait had always fascinated him Sations on the original painting. A
uriously enough, in parallel with he author explains that Giovanna’s ometimes, artists create several vari-

as digital objects, many of these works and that he was motivated by ‘the idea of good example of this serial approach is
also have a material existence. Through bringing it into the present, to a present Maria Torroba’s work, which includes
the use of various drawing and paint- inhabited by [his] own daydreams, in or- more than a dozen versions of Giovanna’s
ing techniques, collage or mixed me- der to give a new meaning to its aura of portrait (Torroba 2018). Maria Torroba
dia, they often propose very imagina- mystery’ (La Spina 2018b). It is import- studied Fine Arts at the Artium Peña
tive, even surrealistic, interpretations ant to mention that the painting was not Academy of Drawing and Painting in
of Giovanna’s picture. The painting by based on digital images, but on a print- Madrid (1976-1980). ‘Initially a painter
Martín La Spina is an evocative exam- ed museum catalogue, together with a of nature studies in watercolour, she has
ple (Fig. 4). book on exotic animals. Still, the artist subsequently shifted her focus to imag-
acknowledges that the Internet has been ery of the Renaissance, the golden age of

a Spina studied Fine Arts at the the main vehicle for the dissemination of Spain and other European nations’, using
University of La Plata, his work: not only has he received very ‘textile media, juxtaposing oil paint with
Argentina, and Scenography at the positive comments and critiques about fabric collage’ (Rebecca Hossack Art
Higher Institute of Art of the Teatro his version of Ghirlandaio’s painting, Gallery 2018). The artist lives in Madrid
Colón, in Buenos Aires. From 1989 on- but also, and more importantly, the im- and is a frequent visitor of the Thyssen-
wards, he participated in many exhibi- age itself has been the subject of multi- Bornemisza Museum, where he went es-
tions and received several awards for his ple re‑uses on personal Websites, blogs pecially to admire Giovanna. Therefore,
artistic work (La Spina 2018a). He has a and social media posts. He has never her derivative experiments result from
special interest in Early Renaissance por- received any feedback from the muse- direct contact with the original paint-
traits and the recreation of classical mas- um, but remembers that, in 2006, his ing rather than from digital pictures
terpieces has been a recurrent feature artwork Meninas under Metamorphosis (Torroba 2017) (Fig. 5).
of his work since his youth. Giovanna (1996), based on Velasquez’s masterpiece

OGhirlandaio’s work can be found in

Tornabuoni together with Chameleons Las Meninas, was published by the Prado ther interesting remixes of
was created in a period when La Spina National Museum under the scope of
was living in Spain and had the oppor- its Picasso’s Year programme (La Spina the world of fashion design, including
tunity to visit the Thyssen-Bornemisza 2018b). flash fiction projects and visual essays in
Museum. which Giovanna’s image is paired with
fashion photography. One of the most
remarkable examples is the photograph-
Many of these works also have a material existence. ic portfolio produced by Edwin Antonio
Through the use of various drawing and painting for Vogue Italy, featuring a gorgeous
dress by Reem Acra (Fig. 6).
techniques, collage or mixed media, they often
propose very imaginative, even surrealistic,
interpretations of Giovanna’s picture.
MUSEUM international | 29
Fig. 5. Maria Torroba. 2014. Giovanna Sicilia. Fig. 6. Edwin Antonio. 2016. Portfolio - Introspection (featuring Reem Accra’s design).
Mixed media on canvas, 130cm × 100cm. Vogue Italia. © Courtesy of Edwin Antonio
© Courtesy of Maria Torroba

ERican fine art photographer and Didentity, the artist highlights the im- Bhe studied Art History, Mos Riera
dwin Antonio is a young Puerto espite the project’s powerful digital orn in 1978, in Oviedo, Spain, where

visual artist based in New York. Over portance of a direct and detailed obser- describes himself as a ‘polymath’ who
the last few years, he has collaborated vation of the original work. He believes has written ‘many impossible digital
with such renowned fashion design- that his work can ‘make people wonder media books, published on the Internet’
ers as Alberta Ferretti, Elie Saab and what the original work is like and visit (Mos Riera n.d.). His work has been ex-
Stella McCartney, and his work has the museum’ and adds that one of his ob- hibited in Madrid, Barcelona, London,
been published in Telegraph Fashion jectives is to preserve the memory of the Paris, Amsterdam, New York and Tokyo,
Magazine, Imagen Magazine, Vogue original painting through ‘a more con- among other cities. Currently, his career
China and Vogue Italy (Edwin Antonio temporary version’ and confesses that focuses on filmmaking, writing and ed-
Studios,2018). His experiments with one of his dreams is to present his work iting digital newspapers, as well as on his
Giovanna Tornabuoni’s image form part together with the original, as a tribute to Web platform Museum of Silence (Mos
of the Among the Future project, which Ghirlandaio (Antonio 2017). Riera n.d.). His video art interpretation
the author has been developing since of Ghirlandaio’s work is part of a broad-

Tshould point out that contemporary

2013 (Fig. 8). o conclude this series of examples, I er project, a three hours and 33 minutes
film The Art of Seeing, in which he cin-

Ery intention was to create a ‘synergy

dwin Antonio reveals that his prima- visual projects inspired by The Portrait of ematically reinvents ‘50 masterpieces of
Giovanna Tornabuoni are not confined painting from the Renaissance to the
between a photo, painting and a piece of to the universe of still images. In the field present time’ (Mos Riera 2018b).
fashion’, to show ‘how fashion evolves of new media art, the video painting by

Iticle, the artist explained that the film

and looks different yet timeless when Alejandro Mos Riera is probably one of n the interview conducted for this ar-
presented in various paintings from var- the most poetic tributes to Giovanna’s
ious centuries’ (Edwin Antonio Studios idealised and serene profile (Fig. 7). was produced through a complex and
2018). As far as his artistic appropriation lengthy process, as ‘all the frames were
of Ghirlandaio’s painting is concerned, painted, stroke by stroke in a tech­nique
he clarifies that he has not received any of video painting’ (Mos Riera 2018b).
feedback from the Thyssen-Bornemisza As another form of artistic appropria-
Museum (although he has been con- tion, music also plays a central role in
tacted by other institutions, including Giovanna’s video, where Mos Riera used
the San Francisco Museum of Modern Duke Ellington and John Coltrane’s
Art) about other pictures included in the piece, In a Sentimental Mood. This
same portfolio (Antonio 2017). sound­scape defines a rhythm and atmo-
sphere, thus conveying the author’s idea
that ‘poetry can translate emotions into
words, painting can express the memory
of every­thing that an eye perceives and
cinema the matter of time’ (Mos Riera
2018b). As the artist firmly believes that
‘art and culture must be accessible uni-
Despite the project’s powerful digital identity, versal and free’, the video art piece is
the artist highlights the importance of a direct available on his Websites and also on
and detailed observation of the original work. YouTube, where it has been viewed over
2,100 times (Mos Riera 2018b).

30 | MUSEUM international
Fig. 7. Alejandro Mos Riera. 2013. Retrato de Giovanna Tornabuoni * Domenico Ghirlandaio. Video art. 4'17".
© Courtesy of Alejandro Mos Riera

Linking Giovanna’s multiple lives

ABornemisza Museum offers a very Icurator of Old Master Painting at the Imuseums should further explore and
s observed earlier, the Thyssen- nterestingly enough, Eugenia Alonso, n line with current digital media trends,

diverse range of resources and infor- Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum, consid- expose the many sides of each theme
mation about Ghirlandaio’s Portrait of ers that reinterpretations of the painting or each artwork, and the most accessi-
Giovanna Tornabuoni, which certainly are relevant in terms of their outreach ble way of doing this is probably online.
helps inspire other interpretations of the potential with different audiences, in- Search engines can point the way to-
artwork. Besides providing public access sofar as they reflect how people observe wards these multidirectional narratives,
to these institutional materials, the mu- and perceive the work (Alonso 2018). as museums will sooner or later have to
seum has also promoted several creative She points out that derivative experi- deal with the ‘Web-based decisioning
re‑uses of Giovanna’s image, including ments can (re)contextualise the paint- power of the Algorithm, the method by
placing direct commissions with design ing and give it a contemporary meaning, which we access content that has col-
studios, in order to produce original thus helping curators ‘understand new onised nearly all aspects of our daily life’
merchandising products. In 2017, for the points of view about the work’. and are already reshaping our intellectu-
museum’s 25th anniversary celebrations, This is really important as the paintings al and aesthetic values (Pepi 2011).
a comic book by Santiago García and of Old Masters are full of meanings
David Sánchez entitled Museomaquia, that are sometimes rather difficult
was published, where Giovanna is the to understand for an audience that is not
protagonist of a surrealistic journey. so aware of the cultural background
and the historical period when the work

Ted exclusively towards professional

hese initiatives have not been direct- was created (Alonso 2018).

Ashift from the 20th to the 21st cen-

designers or recognised authors. Some s Barry Lord observes, the paradigm
have addressed the audiences them-
selves. In 2014, the institution organ- tury museum implies changes in hierar-
ised a competition for a T-shirt design, chy and values, in that the visitor is no
which motivated a number of remixes longer a ‘passive observer’ but an ‘active
of Giovanna’s picture. Nevertheless, in participant’, and the ‘curator’s voice’ has
terms of digital communication, there to share the stage with ‘multiple voices’
seems to be a gap between institutional (Lord 2013). This question is particularly
projects and alternative proposals, even relevant at a time when social and cul-
when they focus on the same artworks tural practices are ‘blurring the bound- Museums should further
and on similar processes of creative ap- aries between producers and consumers explore and expose
propriation. In fact, to date, none of the and challenging the value of culture and the many sides of each
artists interviewed for this article have its impact’ (Verwayen et al. 2017, p.5). theme or each artwork,
received any contact from the museum, and the most accessible
nor have their creations ever been refer- way of doing this
enced on the institution’s Website. is probably online.

MUSEUM international | 31

useum Websites can benefit from algorithmic searches to expand
their own databases and foster online interaction. In fact, the online
dialogue with the audiences should not be limited to the momentary
and frequently superficial interaction through social media. By linking
institutional contents to external resources, museums can bring the cultural
diversity of networked cultures into their official digital platforms in a consequent
and meaningful way. Such an approach does not underestimate curatorial work.
On the contrary, selecting, interpreting, exhibiting and conserving digital contents
and objects is just another variant of the museum’s core activities and, as this study
has demonstrated, online research in the field of art history always requires
curatorial methods.
This can be particularly stimulating for derivative artistic projects. In the case
of the Portrait of Giovanna Tornabuoni, such projects can be seen as a tribute
to Domenico Ghirlandaio, by encouraging the production and the dissemination
of knowledge and the creation of new artistic works inspired by, or derived
from, his painting. Moreover, establishing correspondences between the picture
held in the museum collection and other artworks by contemporary authors
would be a tribute to Giovanna herself, letting her lead not just one, but multiple
posthumous lives through images, either inside the gallery space or on screens,
and making it possible for her to appear and reappear virtually, to the great delight
of art lovers, in her mysterious and timeless beauty.
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