Immersive experience par excellence, the art of the panoramic painting had its glory days in the 19th century. However, exhibiting these monumental works required dedicated buildings (rotunda). With the advent of cinema, this media form disappeared. Few panoramas survived.
The situation is about to change with regard to Louis Braun's Panorama of the Battle of Murten, created in 1893. This 10-metre high and 100-metre long work, which shows in remarkable detail the battle in which the Confederates overcame the Duchy of Burgundy in 1476, has been at the heart of a project carried since 2022 by the EPFL's Laboratory for Experimental Museology (eM+), in partnership with the Foundation for the Panorama of the Battle of Murten.
After two months of patient conservation work, the painting is soon to be digitized. A specialized camera, sponsored by its manufacturer Phase One and equipped with a 150-million-pixel sensor, will be installed on a mobile structure developed for this purpose. It will capture approximately 127,000 images over three months of work. When assembled, this data will form the largest digital image of a single object ever created.
"Augmenting" the artistic experience
"And of course, that's just where our work will begin!" says Professor Sarah Kenderdine, director of the laboratory. eM+ intends to transform the work into a truly interactive and immersive experience. “We have developed a 360-degree 3D interactive display system with a diameter of 10 metres," says Sarah Kenderdine. “This display system is 1/3 the scale of the original panorama but it is fully interactive so gives unparalleled viewing opportunities. We will project the entire Panorama on it, but the unprecedented resolution of 1000 dpi allows us to zoom into more than the naked eye can see, all within an immersive dynamic soundscape. A data science framework will also allow us to query the massive image to highlight, for example, to which army the various soldiers belong, or to characterise the weapons, flags and shields. We will augment the painting with 3D reconstructions of costumes, weapons and other objects, based on the latest technologies used by the film industry.” The massive image also allows for interesting work in computer vision and machine learning producing tools for digital restoration.
The digitization work and the creation of the digital twin will continue until the end of the year, which will allow the Panorama to be presented in digital form from 2024, explains Daniel Jaquet, project manager, and the augmented 3D effects will be added gradually. “Our goal is to be able to offer a wide range of installations for the 550th anniversary of the Battle of Murten in 2026.” The partner museums that will exhibit the digital twin of the panorama include the Museum of Murten, Grandson Castle and the Historical Museum of Bern.