What’s the point of keep­ing it real?

Country Life Every Week - - Athena - Cul­tural Cru­sader

The more a work is re­pro­duced, the greater the aura of the orig­i­nal

HAS tech­nol­ogy brought us to the point when a copy is as good as the real thing? The ques­tion has been posed by crit­ics in re­sponse to the achieve­ments of the Madrid­based firm Fac­tum Arte, which spe­cialises in cut­ting-edge pho­to­graphic and 3D print­ing tech­niques to make repli­cas of works of art. Athena can tes­tify that they are as­ton­ish­ingly good.

At Wad­des­don last year, as de­scribed in COUN­TRY LIFE (Au­gust 17), the firm copied the Louis XIV Savon­nerie car­pet in the Red Draw­ing Room to al­low vis­i­tors tem­po­rar­ily to walk across the room, but it looked so re­al­is­tic that peo­ple needed per­sua­sion to tread on it. This week, the Na­tional Gallery un­veils its ‘Se­bas­tiano and Michelan­gelo’ ex­hi­bi­tion (Vis­ual Arts, March 8), which in­cludes a full-scale replica of the mu­rals in the Borgherini Chapel in San Pi­etro in Mon­to­rio in Rome. At Ho­race Walpole’s Straw­berry Hill, copies have been made of paint­ings sold from the house in the 19th cen­tury.

Athena re­calls the 1990s restora­tion of the Queen’s House at Green­wich, when pho­to­graphic copies were in­stalled of Orazio Gen­tileschi’s 1630s ceil­ing paint­ings in the Great Hall, which had been re­moved in the 18th cen­tury: they looked flat and plas­tic and have long since been re­moved. By con­trast, Fac­tum Arte’s re­pro­duc­tion of Veronese’s vast Wed­ding at Cana, re­cently in­stalled on the end wall of the re­fec­tory of Pal­la­dio’s San Gior­gio Mag­giore in Venice, is so ac­cu­rate that it repli­cates the seams made as a re­sult of Napoleon’s troops cut­ting up the orig­i­nal to take it to the Lou­vre, where it re­mains. Now, the room makes vis­ual sense again, al­though it still seems dis­ap­point­ing that the Lou­vre can’t lend the orig­i­nal back, as it is thought too frag­ile to move.

Does this mean that the orig­i­nal works are in some sense de­val­ued? Athena doesn’t think so. Even if the re­sources of vir­tual re­al­ity were added to the tech­nol­ogy of Fac­tum Arte, a copy of the Borgherini Chapel in Lon­don can never repli­cate the ex­pe­ri­ence of vis­it­ing the orig­i­nal, yet, fa­mously, the cul­tural critic Walter Ben­jamin ar­gued in 1936, in his es­say The Work of Art in

the Age of Me­chan­i­cal Re­pro­duc­tion, that mod­ern tech­niques of re­pro­duc­tion, no­tably photography, stripped works of art of their ‘aura’ of ge­nius and eter­nal mys­tery. In fact, the re­verse has proved the truth—the more a work is re­pro­duced, the greater the aura of the orig­i­nal, as the mil­lions who visit the

Mona Lisa can tes­tify. Fac­tum Arte’s re­pro­duc­tions stand in a long tra­di­tion of copy­ing works of art— in bronze and mar­ble as well as paint. Few peo­ple now can do this con­vinc­ingly, al­though the re­cent ap­pear­ance on the mar­ket of some un­can­nily good fakes of works by Frans Hals, Parmi­gian­ino and even Gen­tileschi have re­vised views about the dis­ap­pear­ance of such tra­di­tional skills. As Fac­tum Arte points out, it re­lies on old­fash­ioned crafts­man­ship it­self, in, for ex­am­ple, carv­ing and gild­ing. A copy may look as good as the real thing, but, il­log­i­cally per­haps, know­ing it’s a copy im­me­di­ately awak­ens a de­sire to see the orig­i­nal.

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