The idea behind the experience of Paris-based VR studio Emissive is to teach you more about painting and the story of the Mona Lisa, so you can experience it better in person. At the same time, users who do not enter the Louvre can enjoy the same experience from the comfort of their own home.
HTC has a special room in the exhibition with 11 Vive Cosmos headsets, where visitors can try it out. “It’s the first time we use virtual reality as an experience for visitors to the Louvre,” said Dominique de Font-Réaulx, director of interpretation and cultural programming for the museum.
HTC let me preview the experience and then took me to the Louvre to see the exhibition before the public opening. The idea was to give me the full experience of how the public could see it.
The key idea the team wanted to convey was how Da Vinci’s otherworldly talent and intense scientific curiosity changed the genesis of art. “The composition and technique he used were a revolution at the time because he created a new way of painting,” said Emissive Art Director Emmanual Gorinstein opposite Engadget.
When I put the headset into Emissive’s studio, I first learned that the “canvas” was actually a poplar wood panel with a repaired gap at the top. After that, I’ve seen how infrared scans revealed Da Vinci’s famous sfumato technique of layering color to create the subtle nuances between light and dark that you see in the real world.
From then on it became more interesting. The narrative exposed the myths that the subject of the painting was a low-born person or even a prostitute who had worn his hair. Rather, she wore her hair in a veil and just had a few hanging curls. This is not clear on the painting, but the infrared images show it more clearly.
In addition, she wears a dress made of a golden fabric, which would have possessed only a nobleman. This confirms the idea that the sitter is Lisa Gherardini, wife of the rich silk merchant Francesco del Giocondo (which is why the painting is known in France as La Gioconda).
The most dramatic revelation in Mona Lisa: Beyond the Glass is a 3D-modeled version of the woman herself. The VR artists used Louvre X-ray, infrared, and refraction data to determine what her face and body looked like and she studied the perspective to deduce the length of her nose and other details. They also made a detailed replica of their clothes to make sure they folded realistically when they moved.
The Emissive team also tried to replicate the fantastic background behind the theme. They first removed her from the background, then expanded it and tried to guess what he would look like.
“The landscape behind Mona Lisa should never be realistic,” said Gorinstein. “It comes rather from Da Vinci’s imagination and his knowledge of geography in the region and is part of the magic that makes the painting so mysterious.”
Finally, they placed the 3D version of Mona Lisa in front of the newly created background and set it up as it is in the picture. That basically got me into Leonardo’s place to see her the way he could have done it. At the end of the experience I flew through the magical landscape in one of Leonardo’s magnificent but impractical flying machines.