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Restoring profanity: applying mathematics to digital image restoration

In the late 14th century Michel Menschein, a wealthy Viennese cloth merchant, commissioned local artists to paint a series of frescoes on the walls of his banqueting hall. The paintings depicted a cycle of songs by Neidhart von Reuental, a 13th century minnesinger, who was particularly fond of satirising the erotic relationships between knights and peasant maidens.

While the steamy subject matter doubtless enlivened many of Menschein’s dinner parties, it didn’t go down so well with subsequent occupiers. When the banqueting hall came into the possession of a Catholic priest in the late 16th century, the frescoes were painted over, and remained hidden for 300 years, until their chance re-discovery in 1979.

The frescoes now represent the oldest instance of non-religious wall painting in Vienna, and provide a unique glimpse into medieval humour and society. But the centuries under layers of paint and plaster, as well as the laborious process of exposure, took their toll. All the frescoes were damaged and some were almost completely destroyed. A restoration effort, led by the Viennese Academy of Fine Arts, was duly taken up, and it was supported by a group of mathematicians. It was an unusual collaboration, perhaps, but one which makes a lot of sense in this age of digital imagery. Digital photographs of the frescoes are essentially mathematical objects, and this puts the vast toolbox of mathematics at the restorers’ fingertips.

For her talk on May 9th, Carola-Bibiane Schönlieb will take this collaboration as a starting point, and will sketch and motivate the different mathematical principles that can guide a digital restoration attempt. After a critical discussion of restoration results she will conclude by pointing out capabilities and limitations of digital restoration methods. Carola will also provide some hints towards applications of such mathematical approaches that go beyond the restoration of arts – such as medicine, forensics and geography.

Carola is a lecturer in Applied and Computational Mathematics at the Department of Applied Mathematics and Theoretical Physics (DAMTP), University of Cambridge, and Fellow of Jesus College, Cambridge. She is head of the Cambridge Image Analysis group.You can read more about Carola’s work here and here.

Don’t miss this fascinating talk! Attendance is free, but please book your place here

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