digitally restored crosier

The story of a Masterpiece – part 2

As we have explained in the previous blog post, the  Ename crosier is the ivory head of an abbot’s staff and has been excavated in 1995 at the archaeological site of Ename, Belgium.  This outstanding object has suffered damage in several ways, so it makes sense to find out in this second blog post how the crosier looked like in its original state. A third blog post will reconstruct how it turned into its current broken state. The fourth and final blog post about this Flemish Masterpiece will talk about its symbolism and unique character.

Evangiles de Liessies

Detail from the Evangiles de Liessies (1146) showing a 12th century abbot’s staff

First of all, the crosier is only partial and has been broken, so that the staff and the part that connected this top part with the staff itself is missing.  In the publication about the crosier by Elisabeth den Hartog, the hypothesis is put forward that this staff has been buried with a deceased abbot at the end of the 14th century and has been unearthed by grave robbers at the end of the 16th century, when the abbey was in ruin and the country in state of civil war, causing massive poverty.  As the crosier cannot be in a broken state when used as a burial gift, it is plausible that the grave robbers have broken the object, causing additional deformation and damage (both hands of the Saint Saviour figure, and the lily and left hand of the lady have been broken).  Unlike gold or silver, ivory cannot be reused easily, making the object worthless for the grave robbers, who discarded it. We will expand on this in the next blog post.


The 12th century Ename crosier, made in ivory (photo: pam Ename)

Secondly, parts of the object are corroded, due to being buried – probably in a grave – for about 400 years.  This corrosion has erased some of the interesting fine details of the crosier, such as the head of the dragon or the text on the side of the lady.


Most of the Lady side of the Ename crosier shows corrosion of the ivory (photo: pam Ename)

Finally, the crosier must have been broken and repaired during its active use.  The two bronze bars that traverse the object horizontally have been added to keep the broken pieces together.  Unfortunately, the man who repaired the crosier had to cut away the top jaw of the dragon to make the lower bar fit.  The lower jaw must have been broken by the grave robbers. We will discuss this in the next blog post.


The dragon has both upper and low jaws missing (photo: pam Ename)

Some years ago, the crosier was 3D laser scanned in high resolution. Assessment of the 3D data shows a resolution of about 50 micrometer, 1/20 of a millimeter. Based on this 3D scan, we have decided to perform a digital restoration of the crosier, to be used in Eham 1291 (the new version of the Ename 1290 educational game) but also to be 3D printed for the educational department.

3D scan

The highly detailed 3D scan of both sides of the crosier (image: Visual Dimension bvba)

Digital restoration is a form of virtual reconstruction and tries to show how an object looked like in its original state and how it was probably used.  In digital restoration, we try to unravel the many clues that are hidden in the object itself, but also look at similar objects, at the time period it was made and used and at the alterations that were made.  We collected about 200 similar medieval crosiers and about 500 images from medieval manuscripts to base our reconstruction on. Here is the result, in 3D, and how we did it.  Use the annotation bar at the bottom to get a guided tour through the applied restorations

Most of the digital restoration of the broken parts (cracks, broken wrists, lily staff, corrosion) and the repair (removal of the bronze bars) is quite straight forward.  The lily staff for example, which is the medieval symbol of virginity, can be seen depicted in medieval manuscripts.  The hard parts are the restoration of the text on the lady side, the dragon and the missing part of the crosier that connects it with the staff.


The bride of Christ with the lily staff as symbol of virginity (Yale MS 404, f50r, ca. 1300)


The bride of Christ holding the lily staff as symbol of virginity (image:Visual Dimension bvba)

The interpretation that the lady is the “bride of Christ” and not our Lady is taken from the above mentioned text by Elisabeth den Hartog.


Macro image with large depth of field through image stacking showing the text on the lady side (photos: pam Ename, image processing: Visual Dimension bvba)

The text on the Lord side is intact and nearly complete, it reads


which means “Through the spirit of Jesus, the snake of the evil is being trampled” (text between round brackets is typically omitted in medieval writing).

The digital restoration of the text on the Lady side does require an optimal interpretation of the object (based upon the 3D scan) and its symbolism (based upon the detailed art history study).  In the publication by Elisabeth den Hartog, the inscription is interpreted as


based upon photographs of the objects (text between square brackets is an interpretation).  The 3D scan (see above) and a detailed study of the real object, including focus stacking macro photographs of the text area, however revealed that MALA needs to be read as COLLA, so the text can be interpreted as


which can be translated as “The bride of Christ, trampling the neck of the dragon”

digitally restored crosier

Both sides of the digitally restored crosier, showing the reconstructed text (image: Visual Dimension bvba)

For the restoration of  the dragon, we found multiple evidence in the 3D model that the dragon is biting the crosier, so that the neck of the dragon is well connected to the vertical part, providing the object some sturdiness and making the cutting of the ivory feasible (i.e. reducing the risk of breaking while cutting).

dragon bites

Design of the missing parts of the dragon, providing sturdiness and feasibility (imge: Visual Dimension bvba)

There is plenty of medieval iconography that shows dragons and biting dragons, giving hints towards the digital restoration.  To have a sufficient contact surface of the lower jaw with the vertical shaft, we have given the dragon a beard, as can be seen in many medieval depictions of dragons.

Harley Ms. 628, f. 101v (British Library)

Illuminated capital in Harley Ms. 628, f. 101v (British Library)

Bearded dragon MET

Bearded dragon on a German 13th century crosier (Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY)

Comparison with the large set of crosier images showed that the missing part of the crosier follows the curved line, putting the decoration of the crosier at an angle to the vertical line of the staff.


Initial (left) and final (right) design of the missing part of the crosier (image: Visual Dimension bvba)

From iconography and preserved staffs, we know that the complete staff was about 180 cm high, ending in a metal point.

Two abbots with their staff

Two abbots with their staff (Moralia in Job – 1110 – Bibliothèque municipal de Dijon)

We have no information if the staff itself was in wood or in ivory, both alternatives are possible, so we presume the staff to be in wood.  We have gold-plated some parts as this was a common practice in the Middle Ages for ivory crosiers.  XRF measurements could tell us if gold was applied on the object, but such measurements are not available yet.

Reconstructed staff

Reconstructed staff with iron pin at the end (image: Visual Dimension bvba)

The final result was 3D printed in polyamide on scale 1/1 so that it could be mounted on a wooden stick, for the educational department.  The digital restoration was performed through digital sculpting by Ewout De Vos for Visual Dimension bvba.

3D print next to the real object

Ewout De Vos holding the digitally restored crosier next to the real object (photo: Visual Dimension bvba)


This work has been partially funded by the Flemish Ministry of Culture.

3D scan

The story of a Masterpiece – part 1

The virtual walk through Ename in the year 1290 is centered around the story of the crosier of Ename, which has been found in 1995 during the archaeological excavation of the abbey church.  Through research, we found that a unique story is hidden in this object, which has been declared Flemish Masterpiece.


The 12th century Ename crosier, made of ivory (photo: pam Ename)

This double-sided crosier is the top of the staff of an abbot, symbolising his power and leadership over the monks of his abbey.  It is made of elephant ivory and measures only 6,5 cm. The front side shows Our Lord as Saint Saviour (the Ename abbey is dedicated to Saint Saviour), the back side shows a lady holding a staff, ending as a lily.

Ename crosier

The other side of the Ename crosier (photo: pam Ename)

In 1158, the Ename monks elect Arnulf, the prior of the abbey of Affligem, as new abbot to replace abbot Willem, who went on crusade but didn’t return.  In 1164, abbot Arnulf returns to Affligem to lead the abbey there and is replaced by another monk from Affligem named Giselbert.  The abbey at that moment consisted of the original abbey buildings, erected around 1065 and a new abbey church, erected between 1139 and 1149, inspired by the new abbey church of Affligem (erected between 1128 and 1138).


The Ename abbey in 1150 (image: Visual Dimension bvba)

abbey church Affligem

The abbey church Affligem, built beween 1128 and 1138

Abbot Giselbert was an erudite man who wrote a continuation of the History of the World by Sigebert of Gembloux (Auctarium Affligemense), documenting the important international events in the period 1149-1164 when he was monk in Affligem, but also mentioning the Ename abbey.  The book is currently in the University of Leiden (ref. LIP2) and contains notes that is has been property of the abbey library of Ename.


Folio 1 verso of the Auctarium Affligemense from the abbey library of Ename, currently in the University Library of Leiden

book Leiden

The interactive Auctarium Affligemse in the Ename 1290 game (image: Visual Dimension bvba)

In Affligem, Giselbert could also have encountered Bernard, the charismatic abbot of the new Cistercian abbey of Clairvaux, who resided several times in the abbey in the period 1131-1151.  In 1153, when Bernard dies, there were already 339 Cistercian abbeys. Bernard himself started 160 new abbeys, and many Benedictine abbeys converted to the Cistercian rule. However, the abbeys of Affligem and Ename did not convert but remained Benedictine.  Instead, Giselbert was involved in 1170 in creating a network of 30 Benedictine abbeys, in analogy of the Cistercian cluster of abbeys, but this network failed to materialise.

Saint Bernardus

Bernard of Clairvaux (British Library, Thompson Yates collection MS32 f. 9v)

As abbot in Ename, Giselbert had the old, small abbey buildings replaced by new, spacious buildings from 1170 onwards (zie Berings p. 140). The first phase of this renovation contained the chapter room, the dormitorium, the kitchen, the refectory, the guest quarters and the abbot house, and got finalised around 1175. The records say that the monks were using tents to replace the buildings that were being rebuilt. Abbot Giselbert left Ename at the end of 1176 or in 1177, at the age of 66 or 67, for another unknown abbey.

Unfortunately, the brand new abbey gets inundated severely in 1180 and needs to be rebuilt partially.  In that effort, or shortly after, the abbey is significantly enlarged.  The abbey gets an additional west wing and a new kitchen plus storage room, while the former kitchen is turned into scriptorium plus library.


The Ename abbey in 1300 (image: Visual Dimension bvba)

Let’s have a closer look at the period 1170-1175, when the abbey is being rebuilt.  Philip of Alsace was count of Flanders at that moment (1168-1191) but already in 1157 he succeeded his father Thierry, who was involved in the crusades. Count Philip, like his father Thierry, supported strongly the new Cistercian Order, and had the Flemish Chapel built at the abbey of Clairvaux. When he died in 1192, he was buried in its crypt, next to the monks that lived together with Bernard of Clairvaux, who was declared saint in 1174.  The count of Flanders was the vogt or lay abbot of the Ename abbey throughout its history.

abbey of Clairvaux

The abbey of Clairvaux around 1200, with the Flemish chapel

Elisabeth Den Hartog, who made an outstanding study about the Ename crosier, dates this ivory masterpiece around 1175 based upon style and form.  The object is full of symbolism, linked to Cistercian themes, although the Ename abbey is and remains Benedictine at that time. So this brings us to the hypothesis that the object is a present of the count of Flanders for abbot Giselbert at the inauguration of the new abbey, in 1175 or 1176, shortly before he leaves the abbey, probably to retire.


Depiction of Saint Salvator at the Saint Servatius church in Maastricht

There are crosiers which are similar, in material and symbolism, to the Ename crosier, for example the 13th century ivory crosier from the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York (shown below), showing Our Lord on one side and Our Lady on the other.  This also would fit very well with the fact that the Ename abbey was dedicated to Our Lady when founded in 1063, and to Our Lord, when building a new abbey around the Saint Saviour church in 1070. Note also the dragon, trampled by both Our Lord and Our Lady, similar to the Ename crosier.


13th century ivory crosier similar to the Ename crosier (MET NY)

However, Elisabeth Den Hartog identifies the woman not as Our Lady but as the Bride of Christ, which is a typical Cistercian theme.  Our Lady always wears a crown in the 12th century, while the lady on the Ename crosier wears a diadem.  In the 12th century, Our Lady is nearly always depicted as the mother of Jesus, while the lady on the Ename crosier shows no reference to the child Jesus.  Saint Bernard has written 86 sermons on the Song of Songs, in which the concept of the Bride of Christ, as symbol of the monk, is reiterated many times.

The Bride of Christ

Head of the Bride of Christ, wearing a diadem, the forehead is worn down (photo: pam Ename)

The Ename crosier is quite worn down and even repaired (the two horizontal brass bars keep the broken pieces together), so it must have been passed on from one abbot to the next until the object was too old and totally out of fashion.  Elisabeth Den Hartog states that the staff probably has been buried with one of the abbots in the Ename abbey church at the end of the 14th century.


The location of the grave of abbot Gerard Ghuise, buried in 1393 in the abbey church (image: Visual Dimension bvba)

When the abbey graves where plundered at the end of the 16th century – the abbey was deserted and completely destroyed at that time –  the crosier must have been unearthed but discarded on the spot, as ivory was not reusable such as gold or silver.  In 1995, the crosier was unearthed in the north chapel of the abbey church during excavations, as can be seen in this video of the TimeLine application at 01:20, close to the graves of abbot Jan Yserman (1390) and abbot Gerard Ghuise (1393).



This work has been partially funded by the Flemish Ministry of Culture.







TimeGate at Open Monuments Day

On Sept 11, 2016, we presented at the Open Monuments Day event in Ename, the making of the educational game Ename 1290. We demonstrated this educational game and virtual tour, and in parallel we showed a presentation on how this TimeGate system was designed and made.

making of presentation OMD2106

Presentation of the making of the Ename 1290 game at the Ename Heritage Center (photo: Maurice Cornelis)

This educational game will probably get an update in the coming months, funding from the Ministry of Culture has been allocated but still needs a final approval.

making of presentation OMD2106

The presentation showed the process of creating the 3D and the interactivity of the Ename 1290 game (Photo: Maurice Cornelis)

Nox.x 2016

Every year in the second weekend of July, Ename becomes the place to be for performing arts (see the video and photos of the 2015 edition), called Museum Night or Nox.x.  For the edition of 2016, the idea emerged to show our latest work on virtual reconstruction and natural interaction with serious games: Eename 1665.  This idea was accepted unanimously by the Nox.x team and planned as the key activity in the museum.  The local television AVS also liked the idea and promoted the event by covering the preparation in their programma “Achter the Schermen“.  Have a look at the beautiful video which also shows how anchor woman Celia Bogaert tries out the prototype of the Eename 1665 game.


Celia Bogaert of AVS investigates an object of the Swan Inn of Eename  in 1665 (phto: Daniel Pletinckx)

So, if you’re around, get your agenda and reserve July 9, 2016, 20:00-00:00 to visit Nox.x and try out Eename 1665, our newest 3D serious game!  Have a look in the Ename 1665 game page for more images or try out our latest Sketchfab resource showing the Swan Inn with links to images and paintings in the online Rijksmuseum collection!  This Sketchfab resource is also featured on a Europeana Labs page.


Heritage in Motion 2016 Award

Visual Dimension is nearly working 20 years now on the virtual reconstruction of Ename and on bringing this 3D content to the general public through a range of innovative techniques and systems (like TimeGate and TimeLine).  In this way, it was an honour that our first educational game Ename 1290 was awarded for the prestigious Heritage in Motion Award in the category “Games and Interactive Experiences”.

Daniel Pletinckx presents Ename1290 at HiM

Daniel Pletinckx presenting the Ename 1290 project at the Heritage in Motion Award Ceremony in Lesbos, Greece (photo: HiM)

Heritage in Motion is an annual multimedia competition on themes related to Europe’s cultural and natural heritage for the creators and users of films, games, apps and websites. It celebrates the best multimedia achievements and products, engaging the public with Europe’s outstanding heritage in all its forms.  This competition is founded by Europa Nostra, the European Museum Academy and supported by Europeana.

HiM participants on stage

All people representing the winning and nominated projects of HiM 2016 on stage in Lesbos (photo: HiM)

At the Award Event, on May 20, 2016 in the Museum of the Industrial Olive-Oil Production at Lesbos, Greece, the Ename 1290 project was evaluated as:

An interesting and user-friendly interpretation of an archaeological site, encouraging individual exploration and linking space and objects in a very engaging way.


Onno Ephraim, director of Heritage in Motion congratulates Daniel Pletinckx, director of Visual Dimension (photo: HiM)

The nomination for this HiM Award stimulates us to continue producing effective and exciting ways to experience cultural heritage and the past. Have a look at Ename 1665, which will become the groundbreaking combination between a book and a game! More news on this soon!  Experience also at the panoramic videos of both Ename  1290 and Ename 1665, if possible with VR glasses!


HiM document

The Heritage in Motion 2016 diploma

History in 360 degrees

The current development of technology allows us to look at video in a panoramic way. By assembling several cameras, or through professional or desktop surround video cameras,  we can film the world around in full surround video.

Noa Neal in 360

Singer Noa Neal performs at CES2016, recorded in 360-degree video (image: Intel)

Also for virtual reality, we can register a virtual walk in a panoramic way, by special plugins that create this surround video for the path that we follow through our virtual scene.  So we have made a surround video along a part of the path of the Ename 1290 virtual tour.


Screenshot of the panoramic video on Ename 1290 (image: Visual Dimension)

Although you can look at this YouTube video on your desktop, the experience becomes much nicer if you see it through a pair of VR glasses.  This sounds expensive but typically, you don’t need more than smartphone and something like Google Cardboard to have fun.

Google Cardboard

The Amazing Google Cardboard VR glasses

Of course, you can use fancier stuff, such as the Samsung Gear VR or the Oculus Rift, but in fact, a simple 15 euro Google Cardboard does the job nicely.  If you live in Flanders and you read De Standaard as newspaper, you should have received such a cardboard viewer for free with that newspaper.


Screenshot of the panoramic video on Ename 1665 (image: Visual Dimension)

If you like it (and I’m sure you will), have also a look at our new Ename 1665 surround video trailer.  We are working hard to create a really nice VR experience  for you, so have a look and enjoy!

History in 4D

We updated recently the TimeLine application in the Ename museum. It shows the evolution of the abbey site from 1065 tot 1730, so it is in fact a 4D application, allowing to move around in 3D and time.


TimeLine in the Ename museum (photo: Daniel Pletinckx)

In this TimeLine, the museum objects are linked to the 3D reconstructions of the abbey and the village.  The visitor finds the objects in the period they originate from, on the place they have been excavated, with detailed additional information. In this way, each object is being re-contextualised in its own period and explained in more detail than the small written notice in the glass case can provide.  For objects, that are difficult to understand, we have visualised the way they were used by 3D reconstruction. Rotating the virtual object reveals the use (shown in this video).

Bone skate

Bone skate, made from a bovine leg bone

Bone skate

Bone skate with strapped-on virtual shoe on top

Bone skate info

Additional information for the bone skate

In addition, the description of the abbey buildings, as presented in the onsite TimeScope system at the archaeological site, are also available for each of the periods. In this way, all the information on the archaeological site is available at any moment, as the onsite TimeScope is only opened from April 1 to November 1.