La Joconde en réalité virtuelle

Virtual Reality: alone in the Louvre with The Mona Lisa

The Mona Lisa is probably one of the most famous paintings in the world, but not always for the best reasons. It is indeed known to be very difficult to see, at the Louvre Museum where it is exhibited, as a compact and permanent crowd of visitors, often come in groups, surmounted moreover by a forest of arms extended camera, presses in front of the life-size portrait of Lisa Gherardini, wife of Francesco del Giocondo, painted by Leonardo da Vinci at the beginning of the 16th century.

This well-known inconvenience serves as an introduction to the immersive experience Mona Lisa: beyond the glass that the museum dedicates to the painting as part of its exhibition on Leonardo da Vinci, open this Thursday, October 24, 2019 until February 20, 2020. We see The Mona Lisa with, in front, a cloud of ghostly silhouettes that, for once, does not interfere.

This is the first virtual reality content offered by the venerable museum, until then very efficient in multimedia. It was developed by the French studio Emissive, author of the VR visit of the pyramid of Cheops available until December 20 at the Cité de l’Architecture in Paris.

If, as for the latter, the experience around The Mona Lisa can be offered to a dozen people simultaneously in a special space, it remains static and without interactivity. The reason ? Reach out to more people, including VR novices, and therefore limit manipulations and tutorials. “The Louvre’s instructions were to go sobriety and avoid overbidding, to saturate people with information, recalls Emmanuel Guerriero, co-founder of Emissive. We presented quite a few things that were not validated.”

Details not visible to the naked eye or missing with wear

Seated, wearing HTC Vive headphones, visitors are invited to follow an 8-minute exploration of the painting. Both of certain technical peculiarities of its execution and of the effects obtained by Leonardo da Vinci (light, drape, transparencies) but also of the myths and rumors associated both with the work and its model. No, Lisa Gherardini doesn’t have her hair detached on the board. No, she’s not bare-headed. No, she’s not pregnant.

During the three months that this project lasted, Emissive benefited from the close assistance of the curators of the exhibition and the Centre de recherche et de restauration des musées de France (C2RMF). ” We would have made more mistakes if we had only worked from documents ” continues Emmanuel Guerriero. In particular, the teams used images by infrared reflectography, which make certain pigments transparent, revealing details that are not very visible to the naked eye or have disappeared with the wear of the painting and colors.

In the end, Mona Lisa: Beyond the glass offers the viewer elements that had never even been represented before. This is the case of the context of Lisa Gherardini, sitting on an armchair in her patio with the low wall and columns that we guess behind her, on the painting (see image above). Or landscape in the background, which is entitled to a rather amazing special treatment. “This landscape is fantastic but the perspectives, the proportions are realistic,” notes Guillaume Martini, who participated in the design of the experiment. We were inspired by landscapes around Florence”. Leaving Mona Lisa and her patio, the visitor boards a flying machine straight out of Leonardo da Vinci’s sketches to fly over these strange lands. No need for infrared, this time, to enter the board.

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