SCREEN’s technology has helped realise a unique art project in the Czech Republic, delivering truly astonishing results. Thanks to SCREEN’s Spekta 650 screening, art photographer Jan William Drnek has been able to create printed copies of the ‘Slav Epic’ by Alphonse Mucha – an icon of Czech and Slav culture – in vivid and accurate detail.
The prints are of such high resolution and the colours so correct, it’s hard to distinguish them from the original with the naked eye. Drnek’s work highlights how sophisticated print technology can make a meaningful cultural contribution.
When Czech art and travel photographer Jan William Drnek was asked a few years back to create a photographic tribute to some of his country’s monumental churches, he politely declined. Instead, he convinced the publisher to embark on a more daring and challenging project: to produce a picture book of the Slav Epic, the legendary series of 20 large paintings by Czech Art Nouveau painter Alphonse Mucha – created in the early 1900s and depicting the history of the Czechs and other Slavic people (see box out).
“The Slav Epic’ is an icon of Czech and Slav cultural heritage,” says Drnek. “Its creation coincided with crucial events in Czech history, and yet I felt it never got the attention it deserved. It’s been my long-cherished wish to ensure more people can see and study it, and I wanted to make a digital back-up of Mucha’s masterpiece to help preserve it for the future.”
Drnek was able to convince the publisher to publish a book with large-size pictures (81 by 61 cm) of all 20 of Mucha’s Slav Epic paintings.
One of the Slav Epic’s historic scenes:
‘The abolition of serfdom in Russia’
Printing art is an art in itself
Making truthful and accurate prints of pieces of art is an art in itself. The challenge is to convey the right colour in a resolution high enough to make the prints look identical to the original, down to the finest detail. Drnek was up for the challenge, and he had a strong foundation to build on. Before becoming a photographer, he studied maths and cybernetics – the study of the way electronic machines and human brains work – as well as conducting in-depth studies into human perception and the workings of the human eye.
In one job, he designed equipment to record eye movements.
“I was aware of the importance of human perception and the difficulty of accurately reproducing colours in photos and prints,”
“What our eyes pick up when looking at a painting depends on the density of colours and the angle at which the light falls on a canvas. Some pigments can have a different reflection when one looks at them from different directions.”
Drnek used these insights for his project. The series of 20 Slav Epic canvases were housed in the National Gallery in Prague, and Drnek got permission to work there after hours and when the gallery is closed on Mondays to take his pictures. He could not just take 20 pictures of the 20 paintings. To ensure light was consistent, and to consider the size of the exhibition rooms – which did not always allow him to place his camera at the favourable distance to the canvases – he had to take dozens of pictures of different sections of each painting.
Jan William Drnek at work: he took more than 12,000 pictures for his Slav Epic book
“I first created a mathematic model to calculate the best possible conditions, such as lighting, camera position, depth of field and diffraction,” says Drnek. “Then I began, taking 12,531 photos altogether, using my digital Canon camera, high poles and scaffolding,” he explains. The data from these pictures amounted to 20.3 TB on his data server.”
Indispensable screening technology
Next came the editing stage – which is where SCREEN’s Spekta 2 technology came in. When Martin Spurny, SCREEN’s agent (Valido Pre-Press) in the Czech Republic, heard about Drnek’s project, he was excited and enthusiastic, and immediately offered Drnek the use of SCREEN’s CTP Workflow EQUIOS technology. SCREEN gave Drnek a free license to use Spekta 650 screening software, the technology needed to achieve the high-end printing quality that Drnek needed. As print professionals know, screening is the process of ‘translating’ a picture into a raster of small dots, aligned on an invisible grid whose lines are spaced at a given distance.
“SCREEN’s technology was crucial to my project. Without it, we could not have printed Mucha’s pictures at the quality, or with the colour fidelity, I was striving for. On the Slav Epic prints, the dots are so small that the human eye cannot see them, not even with a magnifying glass scaling up to 6-8 times.”
When working with the Spekta 2 – 650 lpi, Drnek made what he termed a “remarkable discovery”. He explains:
“Mucha also applied rasterization when painting the Slav Epic scenes. He used this technique to create the colour transitions in upper parts of the canvases as he realised it improved contrast and brightened colours.”
Spekta 2 screening combines the best of AM and FM screening to achieve stable high-end printing quality using existing equipment. It also enables the printer to reproduce high quality vivid colours, lines and skin tones as easily as using conventional 175 lpi / 2400 dpi printing equipment.
Preserved for posterity
Printing the 200 copies of the exclusive 81 x 61 cm-sized Slav Epic picture book took 10 days, printing 24 hours per day.
“It was intense and exciting work,” Drnek says.
“It took long hours, although of course the print process was extremely short compared to the 18 years it took Mucha to complete the series. I’m proud we eventually realised my goal of making top-quality prints of this landmark Czech artwork. Since then, we received a very positive response from Czech and other art lovers across the world.”
In paying tribute to SCREEN’s technology, Drnek says:
“I am grateful for SCREEN’s spontaneous support in making the Slav Epic paintings more accessible for scholars and other art lovers, while at the same time helping to preserve the images for posterity. Without SCREEN’s Spekta 2 technology, this achievement would certainly not have been possible.”
Copies of the Slav Epic have been sold to a select group of art collectors and donated to several art institutions.
Slav history in 20 images
The Slav Epic is a cycle of 20 large canvases painted by Czech Art Nouveau painter Alphonse Mucha between 1910 and 1928. With topics such as ‘The coronation of the Serbian tsar Stefan Dusan’ and ‘Master Jan Hus preaching at the Bethlehem chapel’, the cycle depicts the mythology and history of Czechs and other Slavic peoples. In 1928, after finishing his monumental work, Mucha bestowed the paintings upon the city of Prague. The works, many of which are 610 by 810 cm and together cover 650m2 of canvas, are currently not on display, waiting for a new museum location to be completed in Prague.