Title:From Virtually Impossible to the Virtual: Building a Dream Exhibition
Authors:Kirk Alexander, Janet Temos
Publication:MW2004: Museums and the Web 2004

A map, some engravings, the records of a vanished city ... neglected artists, scattered works, and a compelling story to tell: these words describe two recent projects undertaken by the Educational Technologies Center (ETC) at Princeton University. In the first instance, a decade-long collaboration between Kirk Alexander and John Pinto, Professor of Architectural History, had resulted in an interactive exploration of Rome using Giambattista Nolli's 1748 map of the city as interface to a database of images and text. When Professor Pinto suggested using Nolli's map to contextualize Piranesi's etchings of Rome, the challenge was to combine the digitized works of two of the 18th century's greatest graphic artists to recreate a view of 18th century Rome. The most recent version, discussed here, extends the simple database queries to a Flash visualization which reveals the relationships between Piranesi's prints and the monuments they depict. In the second instance, Lionel Gossman, Professor Emeritus of Romance Languages and Literature, wished to explore the works of the German Nazarene artists. These painters enjoyed enormous popularity in the early 19th century, but had since fallen from favor, and their works had never enjoyed a comprehensive viewing. The possibility of displaying the work of these artists seemed beyond the practical scope of a museum exhibition. ETC designed an interface in which Professor Gossman's narration provided the intellectual context for an exploration of the life and works of this group of artists as a geographically disparate group of art works are examined. In both cases, the combined interaction of scholarship and technology has resulted in the virtually impossible becoming virtual reality.