Science and Heritage Programme

Representing Re-Formation: Reconstructing Renaissance Monuments

University of Leicester

Award holder - Dr Phillip Lindley


Representing Re-Formation: Reconstructing Renaissance Monuments

University of Leicester

Dr PG Lindley
Amount Awarded: £497,907.00, 3 Studentships

In 1934, large-scale excavations on the site of the ruins of Thetford Priory produced hundreds of late-medieval and Renaissance sculptural and architectural fragments. Today, those fragments are still in storage, in an English Heritage warehouse in East Anglia. In response to a call from Simon Thurley, CEO of English Heritage, for all curators to determine exactly what was in store, Dr Jackie Hall was called in to compile a handlist of these fragments. She sought specialist advice and Dr Phillip Lindley visited the site three years ago, with exciting results.

The boxes in store revealed many pieces of sculpture and architecture which are known to be related to two of the Howard tombs in Framlingham parish church, about 40 miles from Thetford. Framlingham had become the burial place of the Howards after Thetford Priory's dissolution by Henry VIII. Quite how these fragments related to the tombs, though, is controversial. It is known that the tombs - commemorating the third duke, and his son-in-law, Henry VIII's bastard son, Henry Fitzroy, Duke of Richmond - had been made in 1539 and had been salvaged at some time in the 1550s and moved to Framlingham. Quite what had happened to the monuments between 1540, when the priory was dissolved, and the 1550s, when they were removed to Framlingham, is unclear. For much of the time, the duke had languished in prison.

The tombs as erected at Framlingham are not what they appear: they seem to have been put together from salvaged components and finished off with new materials. Determining what is original and what was added is very difficult. Our research will offer a radical new solution to the problem. Using cutting-edge 3-D scanning and analytical techniques developed for space science, we shall 'disassemble' the tombs into their constituent parts, and recombine those components virtually, to recreate their original appearance and differentiate the later components from the earlier ones. We will be able to recreate the first, lost stages in the existence of the tombs. Further, our scientific investigation and analysis will determine which fragments excavated at Thetford originally belonged to these tomb-monuments and enable us to reintegrate virtually the appropriate fragments into our reconstructions. We shall use the same techniques to recreate other lost monuments and sculptures once in Thetford Priory, and will bring them back to (virtual) life.

From the outset audience needs will be paramount. We will liaise with teachers and other potential stakeholders through our interactive website and via focus groups. We will render the results of the research into the formats teachers and other audiences tell us they need and make them freely available on-line. The project will produce many papers and books, digital teaching materials adapted to the needs of the National Curriculum, data for our use and for future researchers, and at least one public exhibition.

This collaborative project, which will combine research tools from space science, art history, archaeology, museology and computer science will effect a small revolution in our understanding of the late middle ages and early Renaissance in England. The Howards were the most important noble family under Henry VIII and their fortunes provide a fascinating case study into a turbulent period in our national history. This gripping episode, and the detective story of its reconstruction, will prove fascinating to many diverse audiences.