A New Paradigm for the Evaluation of Cultural Heritage Objects: The Process of Attributing Value and Significance to Diana Mantua's Christ and the Woman Taken in Adultery

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University of Delaware
Assigning significance or value to cultural heritage is a crucial process within institutions to inform decision-making processes for allocating resources towards collections care and management. The field of cultural heritage economics adapts traditional economic theories of monetary value to define some aspects of significance in cultural heritage objects. However, because cultural heritage has both tangible significance, referring to physical aspects of the object, and intangible significance, referring to the significance of cultural uses and associations, economic methods of valuation alone are insufficient. Using the United Kingdom’s Department for Digital, Culture, Media, and Sport’s (DCMS) “Valuing cultural heritage and capital: a framework towards informing decision making” and the Collections Council of Australia’s Significance 2.0 as theoretical frameworks, this paper develops a new paradigm for the evaluation of material culture. The paradigm evaluates a cultural heritage object by assessing its value in creation, value in purpose, value in existence, and value in memory. To test the effectiveness of this paradigm, it was used to evaluate Christ and the Woman Taken in Adultery (1575) by Italian Renaissance reproductive printmaker Diana Mantua (1547-1612). Diana was chosen as a test subject to challenge the paradigm, given the relatively limited scholarship surrounding early female professional artists. Results of this assessment were discussed using an autoethnographic approach to reflecting on the process of evaluation. While time-consuming and subject to constraints based on access and resource availability, the paradigm seemingly proved effective for collating information on heritage objects from marginalized groups and producing a clear line of reasoning for their significance. Ultimately, the development of a qualitative argument for the significance of a cultural heritage object through analysis of its tangible and intangible qualities yields the most useful comprehension of its value.
Cultural heritage, Material culture, Diana Mantua, Collections care and management