Peeling back the layers on something very old and rendering a very large virtual object in the middle of your living room might, at first, feel like activities without much in common. However, two new online tools designed for those activities do share an important theme: a new way of seeing. They both provide the opportunity to see familiar objects in a whole new way.
The New York Times took a dive into augmented reality last month with a crafted immersive experience of the Statue of Liberty’s torch. In advance of a scheduled move for Lady Liberty’s original lamp from the place it now resides, inside the statue’s pedestal, to a nearby museum, the NYT graphics group took nearly 700 images of the structure, from all angles, in order to make the torch available to us all in augmented reality.
In the photo below you can see Lady Liberty’s torch, rendered in my kitchen. There’s something magical about seeing this huge and oh-so-familiar structure manifest in your own house! Although you’re viewing it through your phone’s camera, you can walk around it, tilt it up, get up close, stand on a chair and look down on it, or scale it to its actual size (16 feet tall and 12 feet across!) and watch it break through your ceiling.
The second online tool comes to us from the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna. Their new website Inside Bruegal allows you to examine Pieter Bruegal (the elder) paintings much as a conservator or an art historian would do.
Here’s how this one works. Once on the Inside Bruegal site, select the painting that interests you, choose the image type (infrared? x-ray? macro?) and the site will display side-by-side images – say for instance, the macro view juxtaposed with the x-ray view. The zoom and move functions track in parallel so that you can skate around your chosen painting in both views, examining details closely.
What you’ll find on close inspection is quite interesting. Take for instance the missing sick and elderly in the painting, The Battle Between Carnival and Lent (painted in 1559), or the two fishes painted in place of a christian cross on a deeper layer – variations revealed in the infrared view. In essence, you excavate to discover older layers of paint beneath the surface – a sort of electronic pentimento. You can trace the painting’s history and follow the artistic decisions made as Bruegel created his work, or perhaps, decisions made long after the painting was finished?
Infrared imagery reveals Bruegel’s original painting “Massacre of the Innocents” as a far more harsh depiction of the slaughter of children and the atrocities of the Spanish Inquisition with brutal depictions of dead children. Apparently later viewers must have considered the original painting’s violence as too much and, at some point in history (art conservators estimate in the 17th or 18th century), someone replaced all the images of dead children with images of farm animals — and that’s how the painting stands today.
Here is the Bruegel painting, The Tower of Babel” (painted in 1563), macro image and infrared, full of small variations and revisions.
In this close-up of one of the foreground characters in the painting “Christ Carrying the Cross” (painted in 1564) you can clearly see a tool or a weapon (a rope?) tucked into the man’s jacket that is not there in the underlying layer exposed in the infrared image. When was that added – and by whom?
So much to see and so many different ways of seeing.