Visit Louis XIV's Versailles in virtual reality from home
WE WERE THERE – A reconstruction of the castle in the Grand Siècle is available for free on the Steam platform. The experience gives the illusion of living in twenty-four rooms of the castle and allows to observe up close more than 150 works of art, furniture and antique objects.
Twilight envelops the Palace of Versailles. Finally, if you activate the night mode. The countless candles of the crystal chandeliers sparkle in the Hall of Mirrors. In the new virtual reality tour by Google Arts and Culture, the palace appears in all its luster, as it was in the time of Louis XIV. The Californian company, which has already digitized many museums around the world, has gone above and beyond to offer a privileged exploration of the monument.
Since 2009, the Palace of Versailles has developed a partnership to show its collections on new media to as many people as possible. “It seemed surprising at the time to associate Google and Versailles as the two institutions could seem remote and even contradictory, recalls Catherine Pégard, president of the Palace of Versailles. I think it’s just the opposite.”The online walk in the gardens and then in the Hall of Mirrors via Street View, the virtual fashion exhibitions in Versailles in 2017, or the ultra-high definition capture of some paintings, such as Marie-Antoinette and her children by Vigée Le Brun, demonstrated the potential of the alliance between the Silicon Valley firm and the residence of the Sun King. All likethis virtual reality tour.
“The goal is to reach out to all audiences, especially young people, to make the castle shine,” says Catherine Pégard. This crazy idea required the taking of more than 132,000 photos, which, assembled according to the photogrammetry process, recreate as faithfully as possible the 36,000 m2 of floors, walls and ceilings of the twenty-four selected rooms. The experience is available for free on the Steam platform.
More than 150 works reproduced in detail
Unusually, the Palace of Versailles installed virtual reality kits in the rooms of the Aile du Midi, decorated in honor of Napoleon. The idea of leaving these elegant spaces causes, it is true, a slight pinch in the heart. This one quickly fades, however, when Hercules ‘ living room appears on the screen. Headset tight on the head and controller in hand, the virtual environment takes precedence over the real world. The gaze is instinctively upward, and as if by magic appears The Apotheosis of Hercules, monumental painting completed in 1736 by François Lemoyne. By aiming the work with the right handle, you can zoom in and observe it in its smallest detail, while an information box is displayed at the left handle. We learn, for example, that François Lemoyne, appointed the king’s First painter in reward for his work, committed suicide in 1737, exhausted by his work. Like her, more than 150 paintings, furniture and objects were reproduced in detail.
In reality, it is impossible to enter the Royal Chapel. Google Arts and Culture / Palace of Versailles
The twenty-four virtually reconstructed rooms are just a click away on the interactive map. Throughout the visit, from the Hall of the Rite to the famous Hall of Mirrors, via the king’s and Queen’s apartments, an audio guide slides in the ear indications in French, English or Chinese. The organ and its gilding enthroned at the bottom of the Royal Chapel. It is impossible to enter it in normal times in order to preserve the marble floor. Only one musician is missing for total immersion. The virtual palace, however realistic, is a bit empty. We expect to come across period characters. Or to attend, for example, the king’s rising ceremony, an important moment in the life of the court. A disappointment quickly swept away by the highlight of the show. The stage of the Royal Opera offers an exceptional view of the majestic wooden theater commissioned by Louis XIV. Since the Opera is only accessible during performances, this moment of the virtual tour is a privileged moment.
For Catherine Pégard, “nothing will ever replace the emotion of really stepping into these unique places but the desire to be there will be nourished by this virtual immersion”. The castle has not yet planned to make virtual reality kits available to visitors. The idea is rather to allow those who cannot come to Versailles to discover the castle anyway, or, conversely, to allow those who have come to deepen the visit. To attract an even wider audience, we could imagine a fun experience, with, why not, treasure hunt games or escape game in the castle. On the side of Google Arts and Culture, we do not exclude this kind of project in the future. Provided, no doubt, that success is at the rendezvous.