Since I began work on Alonso Berruguete: First Sculptor of Renaissance Spain, I knew I wanted a film to be part of the visitor experience. I strongly believe that museums must take advantage of the medium of film to connect with modern audiences, who are programmed to receiving their information through high production value video. A compelling film can teach visitors what no label can, thereby heightening appreciation for the art on display. Ideally, the visitor would come to the exhibition having already watched the film online (or in the first room)—thus primed to engage with the objects in a more substantive way.
In the case of Berruguete, the need for a film is especially pressing since many of his greatest works are impossible to travel. These can be brought to life for the viewer on the screen. As for his works that can travel, they tend to be single sculptures from large, multi-story altarpieces, or retablos in Spanish. These are not sculptures that were meant to be seen in a museum setting—up close in bright light—but from faraway in the dim interiors of vast churches. While a good photograph of a retablo can help visitors understand how his sculptures were originally installed, there are far greater possibilities with film for conveying architectural context, detail, and scale.
This past week I traveled with David Hammer, the National Gallery of Art’s film and video producer, to Spain, where we shot the film for Berruguete. The crew included five others—a cameraman, a rigger, a local guide, and two drone flyers. To our amazement, the churches and museums in which we were filming allowed us to use a drone fitted with a high-definition video camera to capture Berruguete’s works from all sides. Here the drone is shown flying through the chapel of the Colegio Fonseca in Salamanca toward Berruguete’s high altarpiece. Until recently the same shot would have required a large crane or a camera dolly on tracks—both expensive and time consuming. In addition to the drone footage, the finished film will feature an assortment of shots taken with a traditional video camera mounted on a tripod. Slow pans and zooms will reveal Berruguete’s art in a kind of breathless fashion that will make the viewer think that he or she is experiencing it in person. In the coming months Hammer will work to stitch together the footage into a logical and visually rich sequence. The film will follow Berruguete’s life story from his childhood in Parades de Nava (on the plains of northern Castile) to his death in Toledo in 1561. Interviews with me (conducted at various sites in Spain last week) will help provide the narrative flow.