Digital tools promoting the historical dream of universal knowledge (January-March 2017)

Anniversaries are frequently an occasion for airing new ways of commemorating the past; in Spain, 2016 has been the tercenenary of the birth of Charles III, the monarch of the Enlightenment who reigned over Naples from 1734 to 1759 and over Spain from 1759 till his death 1788. Among the numerous exhibitions on his reign opened in 2016 and continuing into early 2017, one is to be singled out for its use of state-of-the art digital media, in celebration of Charles III’s role in the ‘diffusion of Antiquity’:

Under his reign in Naples, excavations started at Herculanum,  Pompeii  and Stabiae, and he reigned over the Hispano-American colonies as well as over Spain; the multiplicity of areas concerned makes the idea of ‘diffusion’ particularly relevant since research and the dissemination of results had to be conducted in three areas. The exhibition has three sites, Naples, Madrid (the  Academy of Fine Arts of St Ferdinand), and Mexico City ; in addition to this physical multiplicity, the digital medium offers new ways of emphasising  simultaneity across space: the rooms of the three exhibitions are linked in real time by streaming.

At a different scale, that of of each exhibit, the legacy of Antiquity was disseminated in the past by engravings and by numerous casts of sculptures, among others those made for Charles III and given by him to the Academy to serve as models for the students, thus continuing the diffusion process. The process goes on in new media, since in the Madrid exhibition, near each cast, screens allow the visitors to view the original sculptures of the Archaeological Museum in Naples, in 3D from all angles of view. The distant visitors may also see the 3D models turning on all sides on . Furthermore, the exhibition shows a 3D printer in action, and the visitors may watch it gradually producing replicas of ancient statues.

At the end of the exhibition, the visitors are offered a virtual reality experience: they put on a VR helmet and hold virtual torches in their hands to visit the excavations of the Vesuvius cities; by turning in different directions, they view several parts of the excavations, and when moving the torches, they throw light on patches of the walls to discover the details; at the end of the programme they visit the academy drawing studio with the model sitting under strong light and the students’ benches around ; they are also taken virtually to the Mexico site.

In the words of the introductory text on the exhibition, ‘technological advances are incorporated into the process of the diffusion of Antiquity initiated in the 18th century’; the demonstration of the uses of technology for archaeology is suitably presented in the Academy of San Fernando, situated in a building dedicated to ‘the Arts and Sciences’ in the days of Charles III.