The debate about the “aura” of a work of art is focused on Walter Benjamin’s essay The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction, but is it still useful in the 21st century? The museum was the home of “aura” rich objects but the muse has migrated in search of a new habitat where inspiration can infuse receptive minds. Today’s debate is focused on the relationship between originality and authenticity, between commercial and philosophical value. You can now experience the physical symptoms of Stendhal’s syndrome when viewing a work of art you know to be a copy. From highly respected Egyptologists in the facsimile of the tomb of Tutankhamun, to art historians viewing Factum’s facsimiles at Strawberry Hill House and Venetians crying at the unveiling of the replica of Veronese’s Wedding at Cana in the Fondazione Giorgio Cini, the examples are well documented and grow in number. The work to re-make the Table of Teschen focuses the issue.
The “original” Teschen Table, now in the Musée du Louvre, symbolises the intersection between art, design, politics, diplomacy and the natural sciences in the 18th century. It commemorates a largely forgotten, yet highly important treaty in the history of international relations: the Treaty of Teschen. The treaty represents one of the defining moments in the evolution of European co-operation, establishing the principle of collective security that underpins many of our international institutions today, from the United Nations to NATO.
Created by Johann-Christian Neuber, using diverse and highly skilled craftsmen working in Dresden, the Teschen Table was presented as a gift by the Duke of Saxony to the French ambassador, the Baron Louis Auguste de Breteuil, in 1780 in return for his work to secure the treaty. It is an opulent table covered with 128 semi-precious stones sourced in Saxony, evidencing the growing interest in geology and alluding to the Duchy’s mineral wealth and prestige. The polished stones are inset with Meissen porcelain medallions by Johann Eleazar Zeissig, depicting allegorical celebrations of peace. The table top is also encrusted with floral designs in coloured glass and precious stone. It is an object that carries many narratives.
In 2015, the table was sold by the Marquis de Breteuil to the Musée du Louvre. As part of the conditions of sale it was agreed that one facsimile could be made to ensure the table’s continued presence in the Chateau de Breteuil. Factum Arte recorded the table using 3D scanning and composite photography supported by measured and written notations – an objective recording that made it possible, by merging digital technologies with established craft skills, to produce a facsimile that was almost identical to the original when compared side by side.
The facsimile now resides in the Chateau de Breteuil, one of France’s most visited tourist attractions. The emotional and historical impact of this copy in its original setting compliments the aesthetic impact of the original table in its new home.
The research into the processes to record and remake the table acted as a focus. Another table by Neuber has emerged suffering from war damage. From the skill set developed to remake the Teschen Table it has been possible to carry out a detailed study of the destroyed top and to re-imagine it as it was. As it always has, the past comes to life through the lens of the present.