© M Leuven – Photo – Tom van Dongen
Museum Leuven – or M Leuven, as it is more commonly known – has introduced holographic versions of artworks in a ground-breaking exhibition. The Belgian museum, which boasts a collection of some 46,000 works of art, ranging from late-Gothic paintings and sculptures to nineteenth-century Flemish masters, has developed holograms to present some of its collection in an entirely new way. The exhibition began last autumn at St Peter’s Church in the city of Leuven where the museum is also located. Visitors have long been used to the Brabantine Gothic style of many of the artworks housed in the church but thanks to technology, they can experience them in an entirely new way.
© M Leuven – Photo – Dirk Leemans
For some time, the church has placed M Leuven in charge of preserving its treasure trove of art. So, although the exhibition is not at the main art gallery site, which opened in 2009, this entire project has the M Leuven seal of approval. What the show’s curators have done is to make it possible to look at the artistic treasures of the renovated Saint Peter’s Church through holographic smart glasses. The device M Leuven has chosen to present its three-dimensional versions of the paintings in the church is called HoloLens 2, a platform that is probably more associated with gaming than religious imagery. It is believed that this is the first time that HoloLens, a smart technology developed by Microsoft, has been utilised in any Belgian museum in any context. Certainly, using it to bring paintings to life, as it were, is a novel use of this sort of system.
Innovation and Awards
So cutting edge was the idea that even before the exhibition was made available to the visiting public, it had already gained a prestigious prize at the ‘Muse Creative Awards’ just over the border in the Netherlands. Offering a truly one-of-a-kind experience, one of the holograms allows you to feel as though you are walking among Jesus and his disciples in one painting of the Last Supper. Another hologram depicts the remains of the first Duke of Brabant. There again, visitors can don a headset and experience what the church would have looked like when it burned down in 1176.
According to Zuhal Demir, the Flemish minister for tourism, the holograms constitute a technological novelty but they have artistic value, as well. “They bring the Flemish masters back to life more than ever,” she said. Demir, who is a member of the New Flemish Alliance party, said that the HoloLens technology is able to transport visitors back to the Leuven of the fifteenth century when masters like Dieric Bouts and the Van Eyck brothers were plying their trade as painters.
Creativity and Technology
© M Leuven – Photo – Dirk Leemans
Denise Vandevoort, who is the current chair of M Museum, said that Leuven has been a city where creation and innovation have enjoyed a close relationship over the course of many centuries. “It is no coincidence,” she said, “that Leuven – where art and science go hand in hand – has been hailed as becoming Europe’s most innovative city.” Vandevoort went on to say that it was for these historic reasons that the museum was pleased to be able to support such initiatives, especially where heritage and new technology come together. “This HoloLens 2 project is a perfect example,” she said before adding that it meant that exploring a church that dates back to the 1400s, in terms of its art and architecture, was now much more of a special attraction thanks to the deployment of a 21st-century tool.
Art and Exploration
Visitors can gain access to St Peter’s Church in Leuven and view its many historic art treasures free of charge. However, the use of the Hololens technology is charged for and, without it, the holographic images will simply not be visible. A charge of €12 is made for visitors who wish to explore the artworks on show digitally in three dimensions.
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About the author – Manuel Charr
Manuel Charr is a journalist working in the arts and cultural sectors. With a background in marketing, Manuel is drawn to arts organizations which are prepared to try inventive ways to reach new audiences.