Creating a Continuum from Scientific Investigation to Exhibitions
-The Flawford Virgin -


The ISAAC mobile lab visited Nottingham Castle Museum & Art Gallery to analyse and image the Flawford Virgin, a 14th Century medieval Nottingham alabaster sculpture.  The analysis techniques employed in the examination of the sculpture include: X-Ray Fluorescence (XRF); optical coherence tomography (OCT); fibre optic reflectance spectroscopy (FORS); reflectance transformation imaging (RTI) along with film, macro photography and photogrammetry for 3D modelling. At the end of the project, a film was created, containing the interpretation of the data from these non-invasive analytical techniques to illustrate the object biography. 


Research Questions:


Re-colouring the Flawford Virgin

Reflectance spectroscopy & X-ray Fluorescence spectroscopy were used to identify the pigments and re-map the original colour of the sculpture. Image (a) below shows areas where vermillion, indigo and the original gilding would have been (still from the film ‘Flawford Virgin’).


Characterising the Virgin’s Alabaster

Optical Coherence Tomography (OCT) imaging shows the grains of the alabaster from which the virgin is carved.  The grain size and orientation could be informative as to the local source of the stone.


Was the statue deliberately damaged?

RTI imaging shows damage to the lips and nostril, progressing through on to the cheek and catching upper and lower eyelid before stopping behind the eye. This raises the engaging research question that the damage to the side of her face could have been a blow from a bladed weapon. 


(a) The recoloured Flawford Virgin. The colours derive from the scientific analysis of the sculpture from the ISAAC mobile lab. (b) virtual cross section obtained by Optical Coherence Tomography (OCT) scan that shows the alabaster's microstructure, (c) reflectance transformation imaging (RTI) of a detail of the face highlighting the damage and (d) OCT cube of the alabaster substrate that shows the microstructure of the volume 

making a difference

This research investigated the use of 3D documentation and the various modes of non-invasive scientific imaging and analysis in heritage science, for use as powerful interpretation material. This material could be used by museums, heritage organisations, conservation and heritage science researchers to create greater impact and public engagement. Scientific imaging, analysis and 3D modelling can be used to illustrate and develop the object biography. 3D modelling, through the medium of film, can be employed to communicate complex scientific concepts in a ‘micro documentary’ format that enriches the understanding and interpretation of our material culture. 

The film making approach lends itself to ‘transmedia story telling’ across a range of web and social media platforms. This is particularly relevant to the smaller and non-national museums who would not have the research facilities or media skills to achieve this within their own resources and funding structures. This aspect of the research asks some pertinent questions as to the nature of the motivating factors that would bring heritage scientists, conservators, curators and interpretation specialists to work collaboratively on projects such as this. It also reveals substantial barriers to these collaborations, especially for the non-national, non-research enabled museums.

Conference presentations



Academic Supervisors:  

Professor Haida Liang (NTU)

Dr Duncan Grewcock (NTU)

Dr Andrew Gritt (NTU)

PhD student:                 

Christopher PickUp 

Research Fellows:         

Dr Sotiria Kogou (NTU)