For a long time, and still to this day, the reproduction of art pieces has been considered as a merely technical operation. In the lengthy debate between ingenious and technical work, it has always been placed in the latter category, so much that is was not considered worth of copyright protection. According to many, and even according to some legislations, reproductions of an art piece are always the same, no matter who does them or how. This is obviously untrue, especially in Italy where promotion and valorization of its artistic assets should be a top priority. The result is that a large part of the extremely vast number of pictorial work in our museums is of low quality and meager.
High resolution. How high?
On the opposite side of the spectrum, you can find those who parade the necessity of reproductions of masterpieces with resolution of gargantuan proportions, up to 10 Gb per file or more, that today can be published on the internet, also thanks to new technologies of web visualization now available. This approach is also incorrect. First because too high of a resolution, which can differ depending on the subject, useless sometimes even counter-productive. Second because the goal is not always to obtain the best possible quality, but a simply display of “digital muscles”. I saw examples of reproductions of celebrated pieces that didn’t offer quality or loyalty no matter how enlarged. Also, at such at max resolution, you can often only see an undistinguishable mass of colors and lines. Lastly, it is uncommon, in these circumstances, to find that the lighting was carefully regarded.
A balance of many factors and Hasselblad multishot digital backs
Our approach is a much more balanced and functional one. First of all, we give a lot of attention to the lighting, often preferring to limit to one lighting source ( carefully placed to be homogeneous ), which allows to emphasize the peculiar traits of the subjects, like the stroke, the grain or the tridimensionality. We also often reach really high , sometimes extraordinary, resolutions but always keeping in mind our very specific goal. Secondly we put a lot of thought in the choice of the camera, the lens and the digital back we use; this aspect is also very important. A digital system working with a native 16bit color depth is immeasurably better in quality than any 14bit system. We also consider important to use multishot backs, which work on real pixels with no color interpolation. We use Hassleblad multishot digital backs with 22.39 or 88 Mp which are, in our opinion, the best the market has to offer and are even superior to the scanning backs. The tone quality, the loyalty and finess of color and the sharpness, without the use of an unsharp mask, are unsurpassed.
Leonardo Da Vinci and Pisanello
In order to choose the images resolution we always keep in mind the goal we are trying to reach. Here are a couple of examples.
Leonardo Da Vinci’s drawings have always been the object of much attention and the Museums that conserve them are always crowded with requests to consult them for research of for photo and video reproductions. This causes many problems for these agencies. At the Pinacoteca Ambrosiana, where the Atlantic Code is kept, and at the Royal Library of Turin, where the Self-Portrait and the Portrait of a Girl are kept, they believe, and we with them, that high quality and high resolution digital reproduction could facilitate both promotion and research. For example, in the “Portrait of a Girl”, the reproductions enhanced certain aspects, like the use of a metal tip or the white lead, that used to be barely visible. In this particular case, the reproduction at 88 Mp was of key importance and, as you can see below, the results were exceptional.
The second example is the reproduction of Pisanello’s “San Giorgio, the princess and the dragon” kept in the Church of Sant’Anastasia in Verona, Italy. Michael Lake, the architect who is in charged of the image of the Association Chiese Vive of Verona, was looking for a way to show to the public this magnificent piece which, placed at a high of about 50 ft. could not be appreciated. Being the piece about 430 ft², it required a file of large size. We took five different shots at 88 Mp that were later stitched together resulting in an image with a total resolution of 26901×14419 pix, equal to 388 Mp. The result is exceptional.
Perception and Objectivity
Another aspect we pay a lot of attention is the perception of the piece as a whole. Our goal is to obtain a reproduction that, for what is possible, can give a person the idea of the real piece. Often people think that a perfect reproduction is obtained by using a “repro-like” simmetric lighting and from a color flow calibrated using a Macbeth Color Chart and creating a custom color profile. This could be enough in the reproduction of ceramics, but is certainly not enough in the case of an ancient art piece. Let me give you a couple of example.
Gericault’s “Radeau de le Meduse”, kept at the Louvre, presents a dark yellow/green coating and black lumps due, mainly, to a clumsy restoration. These imperfections seems much more diluted to the human eye, because our brain interprets and filters colors and tones; a color chart calibrated reproduction, however, delivers an unacceptable result that need to be interpreted.
It is our firm believe that, a reproduction is good if the vision, on a monitor or printed, comes close to the one when looking directly at the piece. Another example is given by an oil painting in the crypt of the Churh of San Fermo in Verona, Italy. The painting portrays a group of followers praying, with their eyes to God, represented by a powerful ray of light, that lights the faces on the right side. This result, however, is obtained, for the most part, thanks to a small window on the right side of the piece. By reproducing this painting with a symmetrical light and a color scale based setting, the product is unacceptable, by transforming the lights in medium tones and completely upsetting the tones.
We believe a good reproduction to be the result of the delicate balance of many factors and that to a correct set-up of lights, contrast, color and resolution, you need to add a necessary interpretation of the piece. In our opinion, a reproduction has, with no doubt, to be considered like a ingenious work!