Among all the exciting projects going on in the VRC, the most critical is our new digitization of the Sinai Archive. This important collection was created by George Forsyth, former professor and Chair of the History of Art Department (1957-60) and Professor Kurt Weitzmann of Princeton University. Inspired by the innovative digitization project at Princeton University headed by VRC Director Trudy Jacoby, we have also been driven by the urgent need of preservation to begin digitizing our entire holdings of film negatives, approximately 10,000! At a recent conference in April at Princeton University: “A New Look: Sinai and Its Icons in Light of the Digitization of the Weitzmann Archive” it became very clear that Byzantinist scholars were thrilled to see the never before released images of icons inside St. Catherine's Monastery at Mt. Sinai, the world's oldest active monastery, built during the sixth century by the Byzantine Emperor Justinian. What the Michigan holding will further add are rare photos of the architecture, frescoes, mosaics, liturgical objects and manuscripts.
The Sinai Archive photographs were taken as part of a series of four Michigan/Princeton expeditions to Mount Sinai between 1958 and 1965 to document the monastery and its holdings. Led by George Forsyth, the goal was to document as much as possible the history of the art and architecture of the Monastery. The expedition team photographed the church and monastery with the project continuing over a series of three additional expeditions until its completion in 1965. Photography was under the direction of Fred Anderegg of the University of Michigan. Early during the project Forsyth and his colleagues managed to save the church's most important mosaic by noting its detachment from the apse and bringing conservators in to repair the mosaic. The work was done by Ernest Hawkins of the Byzantine Institute. Forsyth served as the Director of the Kelsey Museum of Archaeology at Michigan (1961-1969).
Digitizing the film negatives before they begin to further degrade with age was the number one goal in our project, and it is a work in progress with great potential and interest to scholars around the world.
What is happening with our collection and that of our counterpart at Princeton University can be viewed at these websites:
University of Michigan (use keywords Sinai Forsyth to see only this project)
Princeton University (a site dedicated to this project).
More Sinai archives have recently been found at Dumbarton Oaks.