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Using VR to interact with art

Last weekend, I went to the National Gallery to see the virtual Veronese exhibition. The exhibition was a recreation of the setting of the painting “The Consecration of Saint Nicholas” by Paolo Veronese, which you could view through VR headsets. The painting, which was originally meant to be hung at the altar of the church of San Benedetto al Po, now hangs in the National Gallery.



Firstly, you are invited to stand in a blue square marked on the ground; this you aren’t allowed to leave during the experience, otherwise the VR glitches and stops working. Once you are wearing the headset, you are transported to a virtual reconstruction of the church where the painting originally hung. Here, in front of you, you see the painting, hung in its original position above the altar. You can look and move around (within the confines of the blue square) and admire the painting as it would have looked back then.


You are given the choice between two guides: Veronese’s patron and the abbot of San Benedetto al Po or curator Dr Rebecca Gill, who researched the painting. These will appear when you put the headsets on. Though it would undoubtedly have been more entertaining, I decided against the abbot and the patron, and chose the curator.


While you explore the virtual reality, Dr Gill describes the history behind the painting and the setting. In the background you can hear quiet discussions and a choir singing. The painting is meant to be viewed from the ground, so where the people attending the church would kneel.

Like Holbein’s painting “The Ambassadors”, which also hangs in the National Gallery, and I am sure many will recognise, you must view the painting from a certain standpoint to understand the meaning or to see the full picture. Though it may be a bit odd to just suddenly kneel in front of a painting in the middle of a gallery, you realise that it can provide an interesting new perspective and allow you to understand the painting in a different way. In this case, you would be kneeling just as the subjects in the painting are kneeling, and you would automatically look up the steps to Saint Nicholas, who is the most important character in this painting. Your gaze is directed upwards, so in a religious sense, up to God. You feel as if you are included in the painting. This is what the virtual reality, and this exhibition, is trying to recreate.


At art galleries, you are expected to stand around and stare at the paintings head-on. Though many find this sufficient, seeing the painting where it originally belonged is far more interesting. What is usually lacking in visits to art galleries is being able to interact with the art. It is on the wall, you are standing before it, and all you can do is simply look at it. Though you can feel connected to paintings this way, engaging the other senses, such as touch, sound, etc. is far more stimulating. This is demonstrated in this exhibition, and I find the concept of combining modern technology with ancient history incredibly interesting. I hope we will see this from more museums and art galleries in the future.


Credits:

Cover image: https://www.nationalgallery.org.uk/exhibitions/virtual-veronese

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