At the National Gallery’s ‘Virtual Veronese’ exhibition, you gain the best experience from a virtual reality headset of Paolo Veronese’s painting ‘The Consecration of Saint Nicholas’. This was commissioned in 1561 as an altarpiece to hang in San Benedetto al Po, the abbey church of one of the largest and most important Benedictine monasteries in Europe. This is a unique project where visitors are able to see the painting in its original chapel in the church of San Benedetto and explore its beautiful frescos and architectural magnificence as it was.
This experience provides you two guides when exploring the painting – you can choose either Andrea Asola, Veronese’s patron and abbot of San Benedetto al Po, or Dr Rebecca Gill, the curator of Virtual Veronese. The two guides let us explore how the painting would have been seen in its original setting in 1562. With Rebecca as my guide, I experienced Veronese’s painting and the frescoes that decorate the chapel’s walls. The historical figure of Abbot Asola gave me an insight into why he commissioned the altarpiece and the troubles facing his monastery at the time. This method is more appealing than traditional exhibitions as it adds layers of sound and video rather than content only. Virtual Veronese enables us to deeply understand the background, meaning and emotion of the painting.
Virtual Veronese surrounds the viewer within an enclosed virtual space created by an accurate scanned 3D model of the chapel and tells its story using volumetric video actors. When the church bell rings, visitors can walk around the church immersed in the story of art. The digital experience is accompanied by a recording of Gregorian chant, performed by Veneti Cantores. The piece of music is taken from a choral book that was produced at San Benedetto al Po in the 1560s. The music that visitors hear is the same as that performed by the monks nearly 500 years ago. The background score transports us to old times and the original setting through the medium of virtual digitalism. This is a path-breaking project showing how existing art can be combined with new ideas to produce a valuable new experience.
This experience lasts just under eight minutes, and subtitles are available in English, French, German, Italian, Spanish and traditional Chinese. After the experience, visitors can visit Room 9 in the National Gallery to see the painting on display. This free digital experience can now be booked in twenty-minute ticketed sessions available from the gallery’s website: https://www.nationalgallery.org.uk/exhibitions/virtual-veronese
National Gallery visitors in headsets in the trials for the Virtual Veronese experience; Photo © National Gallery, London
Reviewed by Jiajing Yang. Yang is a MA Documentary-Fiction student at UCL and a volunteer writer for Abundant Art. Yang has written several different articles on the WeChat platform and Zhihu website, mostly about film and literature, and she has published a romantic novel based on ancient China.