Wonders of Venice: Virtual Online Treasures in the St. Marks Area is an initiative of the Veneto Region (Italy), developed over two years, in cooperation with Procuratoria di San Marco, Polo Museale del Veneto and the Marciana National Library. The total cost of Wonders of Venice was financed by the Strategic Project for the Knowledge and Availability of Shared Cultural Heritage - SHARED CULTURE - in the framework of the Cross Border Cooperation Programme Italy-Slovenia 2007-2013.
The first aim of Wonders of Venice was to create the first ever virtual online museum devoted to Venice thanks to the large numbers of digitized works: it has made an important historical, cultural and artistic heritage available to a global audience through the application of new technologies to cultural heritage in innovative ways.
The scientific basis lies in the cataloging and digitization campaign, realized with the project SHARED CULTURE, and in the will to turn information and knowledge generally reserved to specialists of the field into academic user-friendly content readily accessible to the general public. The administrative practice of cataloging is governed by regional and national regulatory frameworks and is preparatory to the protection and promotion of cultural heritage. But it’s not so simple to convert these contents into practice, because the cataloging is perceived as a technical activity for “insiders”, but not for a general audience. The aim was to turn an apparently arid activity into an involving activity to promote and support knowledge of cultural heritage.Wonders of Venice is a website www.meravigliedivenezia.it, accessible on smartphones, tablets and computers, responsive (the display modifies itself in real time, depending on the screen used) and translated into 10 languages. It allows users to access multimedia contents related to prestigious historical and artistic works, symbols of the history and culture of the Republic of Venice (the “Repubblica Serenissima”), which are located in and around St. Mark's Square: works of art and rediscovered museums.
As for works of art, there are 386 virtual objects, obtained from photographic reliefs, virtually represented in three dimensions and rotatable on an axis (for some objects the rotation is 360° on three axes). The objects are accompanied by a brief description and photo attachments. The cultural and artistic assets affected by the intervention consist of: • Jeweller’s pieces of work and liturgical objects and other Egyptian, Assyrian and Roman finds which compose the Treasure of St. Mark’s;• Greek and Roman sculptures, coming from the collection of Giovanni Grimani, Patriarch of Aquileia, now stored at the National Archaeological Museum of Venice;• "Special items": ancient art exhibits reused in medieval Venetian monuments of exceptional importance (i.e. the Lion of St. Mark).
The rediscovered museums are the Tribuna of Palazzo Grimani and Public Statuary of the Republic of Venice (Statuario Pubblico della Serenissima). The Tribuna is an enchanting room of the Palazzo Grimani Museum, where Giovanni Grimani, a cultured and refined benefactor and patron of the arts, located his Greek and Roman sculptures, one of the richest and most famous collections of such items in the world. In 1587, Grimani donated his collection to the Republic of Venice, under the single condition that a suitable exhibition location be found for its enjoyment by the public. The site chosen was the Antechamber of the Marciana Library, where the sculptures were transferred after Giovanni's death in 1593, creating what for over two hundred years became the Public Statuary of the Republic of Venice, admired by eminent people and intellectuals aware of the novelty of a museum open to all.
Today the Tribuna and the Statuario are only “containers” and their “contents” are located in the National Archaeological Museum. The purpose of Wonders of Venice was to recreate these two unique moments through the help of sophisticated computer systems, giving new life to the Tribuna with the sculptures that once filled it and recomposing the Public Statuary as it appeared in the past. They were reconstructed with the sculptures of the Grimani Collection as they appeared originally in the sixteenth and eighteenth centuries respectively. The two museums, visited as virtual tours, were realised on the basis of a 3D reconstruction and were populated with 237 3D-surface-model-objects corresponding to the virtual objects of the Grimani Collection. The objects were reconstructed on the basis of photos and after that, there was additional manual work for the contour shaping of the images and for the realisation of the corresponding 3D (Mesh) of the objects (texture included). The reconstruction of the Tribuna is based on a drawing by Federico Zuccari, stored in the British Museum of London which is, to date, the most believable hypothesis of the palace's layout as it was in 1582, when Zuccari visited Palazzo Grimani.
A section of the website is devoted to the 3D reconstruction of St. Mark’s Lion, the symbol of Venice. It was realised starting from photos and stock footage and by following the manual work of graphic reconstruction. This section is accompanied by some charts telling the Lion’s story from its origins. The story is also animated in a short clip and by an interactive game of the deconstruction/reconstruction of the Lion itself.
In 2013, Wonders of Venice was presented at the Digital Heritage International Congress during the workshop “Museums Digital Heritage” with the speech “It is Unique, It is Fragile, but It is Open to All: Virtual 3D Valorization of The Archaeological Collections of the St. Mark Square, Venice”. In 2015, Wonders of Venice won the Grand Prix of the UE Prize for Cultural Heritage / Europa Nostra Awards 2015 in the category “Research and Digitization” for the following reason: “The Awards’ Jury were most impressed with this digitization project. Through a multi-lingual platform, it is accessible on a wide range of media. It impacts on both promotional events and research, and will be useful to both expert and tourist alike. The challenges of complexity, the distinction between the real and the virtual, and a mix of academic disciplines and range of objects, are all successfully resolved in this highly commendable and valuable project”.
In the same year Wonders of Venice also won the National Prize for Innovation, also known as the Prize of the Prizes, in the field “Public administration” because it was a “wide project of digitization of cultural goods which relates valorization and technology to an absolute scientific accuracy joined to a format aimed at attracting international public and young people”.
The success of Wonders of Venice has made proud all those people that have participated in its realization, both in the planning stage and in progress. The task was complex and made possible by collaboration among the several authorities involved, by the synergy among different Regional offices and by the participation of the various Institutions present on the territory: all those involved worked with a common perspective oriented towards the valorization and recovery of the cultural heritage related to Veneto. In particular, the different regional scientific and technical competences within Veneto’s regional structures have been precious resources: this has shown that it is possible to combine the administrative activity of a territorial public body with the need to transmit and to spread cultural contents to all the citizens and to increase public enjoyment of culture as much as possible.
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