MSc Heritage Visualisation School of Simulation & Visualisation

Christine Ren

2022-2023 Heritage Visualization @GSA

2006-2021 Creative Digital Advertising @Shanghai

2002-2006 Multimedia Design @ China Academy of Art, Design Institution Shanghai

Christine is a recent graduate of the MSc Heritage Visualization program at the Glasgow School of Art. She had been working in digital advertising and creative design for over 14 years in Shanghai before she moved to Glasgow. She is interested in the use of creative virtual contents to boost visitors’ learning experience in heritage visiting context and is passionate about integrating creative thinking with innovative technologies to enhance public engagement. Recently, she focused on the impact of virtual restoration with multiple interpretations through projection mapping on visitors’ understanding processes in early medieval Christian monuments of Scotland.

Coloring Sunstone
A Case Study of Virgin Standing at the Child
Sarcophagus in 1907: A Nostalgia

Coloring Sunstone

The project focuses on exploring the impact of virtual restoration through projection mapping as a heritage multi-interpretation tool on visitors’ learning processes of Govan Stones that own a few uncertainties and ambiguities when it comes to heritage interpretation, which affects visitors to understand and experience Govan Stones in Govan Old Parish Church. This research combines Photogrammetry, historical evidence collecting, virtual restoration including 2D iconographic proposals and 3D sculpturing, video making, and installation setting. There were five possible interpretations of the hunting scene panel of Sunstone presented through projection mapping over three days in GoP, recalling the stone’s previous function and significance – as a visual aid, allowing visitors to have a vivid view of the possible pastness of Sunstone. From the data analysis outcomes, visitors have an open mind to accept multiple interpretations and are amazed by the colorful virtual pigments shown by projector for history learning. Consequently, there is interest from visitors that they are willing to learn Govan Stones through this in-situ innovative, interesting installation. This research emphasizes the property of virtual restoration that it has no physical intervention on objects, which is different from traditional physical restoration that usually provides one possibility, brings the life to ancient stones with changeable virtual models through real-time projection mapping.

lion interpretation

Although there were many surviving examples of lion carvings, they could not provide shape details of the lion. In fact, the early Christian monumental sculptures of Scotland had related to the illustrated manuscripts, such as Book of Durrow, according to a study done by Geroge Henderson (Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland, 1999). Consequently, the illustrated lion from Book of Durrow became the reference of this process, which not only offered the detailed shape of the lion, but also provided possible pigments use for restoration. Likewise, the proposal of the bull was inherited the calf and bull illustrations. The shape of the bull was referred to an ox as a Symbol of St Luke from an ancient manuscript, the color of it was based on the calf symbol of St Luke, Echternach gospel. However, stone carving is not the illustration, combining with the evidence collected before, the final proposal of lion was a combination of illustration and stone carving.

Horse interpretation

interpretation of bear

Another view of the animal is as a bear (Ritchie, 1999). However, the interesting thing is that after Photogrammetry, the beast’s long tail became clear and a bear without a long tail obviously. Does this mean that a bear’s interpretation is impossible? Govan stones have been reused and refunctioned throughout history, it is hard to determine that there was nothing changed on the stones. Possibly, there was someone who recarved a tail on the animal. In fact, bears are one of the famous naturalisms of the Pictish symbol-stone animals (Henderson & Henderson, 2011b), and a surviving stone with a bear could support this interpretation. Following this, an interpretation of bear could be included

rider and calf

female rider interpretation

Viking culture once influenced Govan carving, and there was a similar hairstyle with a Viking woman, yet her pigtail is downwards. With new evidence like this, the question of whether Sunstone’s rider ever was meant to be a woman? Some points of interpreting ancient stone figures also raise the question of gender. There are dichotomous categories that differentiate gender by primary and secondary sexual characteristics including the physical traits of facial hair, penis or breasts, hips, or by the presence of some cultural objects with figures, such as a Paleolithic figurine with textile patterns classified as female because of an assumption that textiles are related to being woman (Joyce, 2009). The mustache could justify the rider’s gender, but can these weapons determine sex as well? Research of male figures from Knossos, Crete, reveals that many ancient sculptors seemed to have few interests to follow binary sex categories, not giving a clear sexual characteristic or following the social and daily habits among men and women in their artworks (Alberti, 2005). Meanwhile, there is a surviving fine example of Pictish stones named the Hilton of Cadboll cross-slab that features a hunting scene incorporating a rare female figure riding side saddle, representing a scene from the daily life of the Pictish nobility (Jones & Historic Scotland., 2004). The reasons for interpreting the main rider facing the audience as female is, not only the long hair style and garment, but also the mirror and comb presented in front of her (Henderson & Henderson, 2011a). However, Cummins argued that although mirror and comb were found in Pictish female’s tombs, there was not necessary to indicate a portrait as female with mirror and comb, and the significance of these carving just is a prayer of souls and nothing with gender (Cummins, 1999). However, determining an iconography is male or female is challenging and these ambiguities of gender present in artworks may have been emerging in the society while stone producing (Hays-Gilpin, 2014). In other words, the objects presented on stones with figures could be signified beyond their typical gender meanings. Hence, multi-interpretation of rider on Sunstone should involve the consideration of a female warrior not only a typical male rider. Most importantly, female warrior has long been part of the Viking image and many excavations of Viking women buried with weapons validated this view (Price et al., 2019).

Virtual Restoration in 3DMax

Five virtual models

A Case Study of Virgin Standing at the Child

Since the development of digital technology, the traditional conception of ‘object’ now has been questioned frequently and a new accompanying explanation of ‘digital object’ has emerged (Hui, 2012). Thus, the recent advances of digital technology are asking for a new life cycle from production to consumption (Dannehl, 2018) in digital domain, which would create a fresh relationship between humans and digital objects. Virtual Archaeology includes virtual restoration, digital reconstruction, virtual recreation etc. All these mentioned definitions share a common characteristic – involving the process of reconstructing something that existed in the past from available evidence. Any kinds of artifacts are the results of cultural expressions and determined by the availability of materials, craftsmanship techniques, local economies and contemporary aesthetic taste (Bier, 1998). My research question is how material culture approaches can support or affect virtual restoration of liturgical sculptures? A case study of Virgin and the Child. I applied material culture approach as the key framework companying with other methods. The first objective is to figure out the evidence for virtual restoration – two arms and parts of feet of the Child are missing, and the I figured out what they were like before. Then, the second research objective is to evaluate the result, if the material culture approach could challenge the previous practice or ideas in virtual restoration and benefit the creative representation. Finally, I contemplated and practiced the relationship and differences between the new digital replica, the physical one and audience from various perspectives based on material culture ideas.

Virtual Restoration of Virgin and Child

3D Model of Virgin standing at the Child, made by Geoffrey Marchal, displayed on Sketchfab. Made with ReCap Pro from Autodesk. Virgin & Child oak statue, North of the Rhine region, circa 1480-1490. Musée d’Art et d’Histoire (Musée du Cinquantenaire, Brussels, Belgium). I virtually restored this model base on it.

Templates of Beautiful Madonna

In fact, all these Beautiful Madonna can be considered made by a singular sculptor and they shared a compositional type which could be combined, redistributed and rearticulated with different components from one to another for countless times, because of the increasing producing demands from the public yet the courts and the demarcation and specialization of labor at large workshops – the results of economic development (Recht, 2010b). Although this theory of ’templates’ mostly implied in the use of molds, the cast stone, late gothic sculpture including wooden artworks developed above all from maniera which is from the use of formal combinations conceived for their own sake, Recht argues. Consequently, it should not be only one possibility of restoration and even if it was only one posture throughout the previous history, all the evidence I found still can be seen as authenticity to some extent. Material culture study is not only about the metanarrative - a single line of melody, but also about a full symphony (Adamson, 2018). This information inspired me to think about the representation of virtual restoration.

Digital Incarnation

Who, being in very nature of God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; Rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being fund in appearance as a man, He humbled himself by becoming obedient to death - Even death on a cross! Philippians 2:6-8 NIV Medieval sculptors compacted the teachings of the Incarnation in three-dimensional sculptures (Recht, 2010a). Jesus is just an infant, humble and vulnerable, yet approachable, amiable, not the imperatorial God sitting on his throne during the Last Judgement. When medieval people gazed at this statue, they could read the meaning of ’Words Became Flesh’, not just by wording, but also by visual simulations. By extension, the openness of digital world, in which the audience could engage and interact with digital medieval models, let them join in the process and discussions of virtual restoration. For the digital object, there is never a moment of absolute completion in virtual restoration and any detail and part can be rewritten, iterated and developed in the future. There will be no end to virtual restoration. This is another alternative way of the Incarnation – embracing the digital residents, let everyone come to the Child. Eventually, the medieval world is no longer unreachable, and the divinity of the sculpture does not seem to have faded.

Back to medieval church-setting

To some extent, the medieval liturgy sculptures owned two distinct orders of reality which enabled medieval Pilgrims to take part in or witness the religious events, one is of ritual, and another is of narrative (Recht, 2010a). For the ritual reality, all worship activities happened is what was and will be forevermore for all time, which has been sealed in the statue. The narrative time, by contrast, is a perpetual present, each moment of worship or activity within it could be rewritten, rechanged, interacted more and more by participants. In this case, the Virgin and Child is neither ritual nor narrative in museum-setting. Unlike two-dimensional paintings, the three-dimensional sculptures could provide a sense of corporeality to the humans, people and sculptures share the same space and man could acquire their personalized experiences from these human-like statues (Recht, 2010c). As I mentioned above, the Beautiful Madonna is not just a secular artwork which is only for aesthetics, however, it has its religious significance and function – worship. Jones once argued the significance of a cross-slab to its localcontext and community, only when it reconnects with people and places – the local contexts – they are “alive” (Jones, 2006). In a museum, there is no pilgrim who would worship or interact with it anymore. Therefore, the Virgin and Child has been deprived of its inborn significance while being displayed in a museum, being a fossil, according to Jones, not a living worship object. Despite what happened to this figure, fortunately, the new digital models could give possibilities for the investigations about the experience of observing a sculpture within a church, how visitors interacted with these static sculptures while physically moving in a cathedral before, which could be revealed by digital models (Jung, 2019).

Cyber worship

Worship is not a homogeneous concept, yet a synthetic and all-around experience, compromising not only visual but especially musical stimulations among the sacred places, liturgy artworks and the congregations (Coffin, 1929). Rather, the material culture approach does require the multi-sensory ’environmental aesthetics’ that considers the ways in which people engage with their environment through touching, seeing, smelling, tasting and listening (Blandy & Bolin, 2012). Given this point, I would introduce the medieval hymn into this virtual cathedral, offering a divine yet emotional, nostalgic aura to the digital model. When I put it back to the medieval cathedral, it could obtain the ritual attribute once again and, as I argued before, there would be no end in virtual creation, the narrative attribute of the statue - the interaction betweenthe users and the 3D models - could be iterated by digital residents now and later. Everyone taking part in it is going to create a new context for the Virgin and Child. Once the digital Virgin is produced, the digital replica not only extends the biography but also creates new materiality - its own authenticity (Jeffrey et al., 2021) and embraces its new modern narrative - the trajectory from production to consumption (Miller, 2015), processing a new relationship with the online audience.

Sarcophagus in 1907: A Nostalgia

St Constantine’s Sarcophagus

One of the significant stones is St Constantine’s Sarcophagus. The early Govan church was dedicated to St Constantine and was founded with royal patronage around 9th century and possibly early (Ritchie, 1999). Another discussion worth stressing is who St Constantine is. Although there are many explanations about St Constantine, it is hard to identify which person was the owner of this sarcophagus – a common name used in late eighth century, the migration of groups of Strathclyde aristocrats, the translation of saints’ relics – there were many persons called Constantine during this period and even putting together a history of the Scottish church at this time is difficult as well (Alan, 1997). However, no matter a King or a monk, the one thing could be said is he was an important historic figure in Govan’s history, representing the power, divinity, extraordinariness, and the Sarcophagus, even the church were dedicated to him – St Constantine’s Sarcophagus can be seen as one of the most representative stones in Govan.

Govan Old and the Govan’s Community

Indeed, the development of Govan Old was closely bound up with the development in Govan which largely influenced the Govan Community. Historically, Govan Old had been the center of worship and social activity throughout the past several centuries in Govan – the Brittonic Kingdom, the Kingdom of Strathclyde, etc. -even during the heyday of the industrial period in Glasgow. Back in 1840‘s, Govan was at one point the center of the world-renowned Clydeside shipbuilding industry (William Beardmore, 2000), and it can be imagined that thousands of workers working in factories, ships waiting to enter the port, people flooding into Govan Old and gathering in the navel singing the choir – a scene of prosperity. In 1876, the ministry of Govan believed that the new church was to be a noble sanctuary to transcend the industrial ugliness of the Govan’s bustling shipyards, providing daily services (McKinstry, 2000), and the last extension was completed in 1908. At that time, Govan Old was favored by the economic prosperity in Govan. After World War 2, Govan shipbuilding faced a huge decline and was unable to compete with the new power around the world (Brocklehurst, 2013). Accompanying the demolishment of shipbuilders and shipyards, Govan Old experienced the decrease of numbers of congregation and was united by Church of Scotland with Linthouse to make it redundant. However, it still stopped providing regular Sunday services in 2007. Now, the function of Govan Old is a museum, more than a sacred place, displaying Govan Stones and it only opens for six months.

However, when it comes to the residents in Govan, the senior generation still remember when they were kids used to stand at the doors of the shipyards and thousands of men coming out at once, stand on the graves and pretend the rumble of the subway was a ghost, dig the holes in churchyard to understand the boundary (Govan Cross Townscape Heritage Initiative, 2014). In addition, Govan Old was surrounded by shipbuilders and shipyards in 1932. The memory of Govan Church and even the past glories in Govan throughout history is deeply rooted in residents’ lives and could be the identity of people in the Govan’s Community. According to Karin Dannehl, most of the artifacts could enjoy a mode of life cycle – a biography (Dannehl, 2018). For St Constantine’s Sarcophagus, the exact life experience might be difficult to trace back, however, it could be seen that it has experienced at least from carving-producing, being transported, anointing, dedicating, worshiping, burying, unearthing and finally settling in church through early medieval period to nowadays. In this case, Govan, Govan Old and the Govan Community have shared an identical life trajectory in history, one biography of them can reflect the other two. Therefore, the project team attempted to construct an interpretative biography of St Constantine’s Sarcophagus to reflect the fates in Govan Church and even the Community.

Reconstruction of 1907 in Churchyard: A Nostalgia

The horizontal crack is the most remarkable feature of the Sarcophagus. In this part, the animation of digital reconstruction tells another ambiguity - where and how the crack might have caused and how the Sarcophagus would have looked like before being removed into church. Another aim for this digital reconstruction is showing an interpretative nostalgic scene which could be a reminder not only of Govan Church’s worship past but also of Govan’s industrial past, as I indicated above. Because nostalgia could be used as a strategy for heritage displaying to span the gap between the old generation and the new who never experience the past (Mortensen & Madsen, 2015). Hence, the crack is the starting point, but the nostalgic Govan is the purpose. This digital reconstruction was created based on a 19th-century drawing and some photos captured in 1900’s. The former one provided the fundamental image of it and the latter one showed other stones that were in churchyard at the same time. The research method for this reconstruction is the material culture approach, putting the artifact in its historical context, thinking about what shaped this object, by the weather or/and human action, may left traces, and connecting with the landscape and considering the soundscape (Harvey, 2009). The Sarcophagus was discovered by a sexton in 1855 and it lay a couple of feet below the surface perhaps to protect the monument during the Scottish Reformation Iconoclasm practice. After being unearthed, it was moved to the south-east of the kirkyard and enclosed by wooden railings, which caused significant damage especially to the two long side-panels containing the richest figures (Spearman, 1994). It is difficult to calculate how many days it was in the churchyard, but then the outhouse became damp and dilapidated, therefore there was much concern about the condition of the ancient stone. In 1908, when the extension was completed, the Sarcophagus was removed into the Chancel that had just been built. Following this, reconstructing a rainy and cloudy environment would underline the reason for the crack and emphasis the weather conditions, enhancing the nostalgic feeling.


The design process of this digital reconstruction was, finding historical evidence, identifying the level of certainty using the Colorscrip of the reliability (Pietroni & Ferdani, 2021), illustrating a draft layout in Photoshop which gave the designer a basic sense of the final artistic tone, acquiring data in Govan, processing data, reconstructing the churchyard, synthesizing the sound effect, and finally importing the final animation.


When it comes to the soundscape, which was composed of the sound of raining, church choir, stem-whistle from shipyard, and bell ringing. There were congregations singing choirs, shipbuilders and shipyards, there was a church. These were the soundtracks of Govan Old which concentrated many Govan residents’ life span from birth, education, work, wedding even to death in Govan, highlighting the peak moments – music and sound interact with lives and associate with memories (Garrido & Davidson, 2019). Although now all has gone, digital reconstruction could recall it.