Virtual Chartres Cathedral
Initially created between fall 1999 and spring 2003, the project begins with the notion that traditional means of presentation and study – e.g., the art-historical slide lecture – can only hope to summarize abstractly the dynamism of the Gothic cathedral. The Gothic cathedral functioned as an encyclopedia of late medieval humanistic and spiritual concerns – a cultural "text" that was both "written" and "read" by its varied users. We attempt to read this encyclopedia today in order to understand the religious beliefs, cultural values, and secular practices encoded within it. But we view the cathedral and its environment through modern touristic and commercial lenses, instead of reading their significance through the lens of medieval cultural attitudes. In addition, slides and photographs treat the cathedral merely as a series of static, two-dimensional visual compositions, devoid of spatial continuity, and divorced from the urban and social contexts that gave it meaning. These modern images are also unable to recreate the original intended appearances of these walls and spaces, in part because the cathedral's structure, imagery, and furnishings have changed or vanished over time. But just as importantly, there was, in effect, no "original intended appearance" of the cathedral and its urban environment. Instead, the cathedral acted as constantly changing environment for imagery, devotional ceremonies, and secular practices, adapting itself to the different audiences and occasions it served and the different events that echoed within the bishopric it ruled.
The project uses a variety of digital tools (including 53 Quicktime VR panoramas) to create a "virtual" Chartres cathedral and town. This project seeks (1) to erase the barriers between students and the 21st-century cathedral and town, by providing a digital "bridge" by which they can explore and interact with the cathedral and its surroundings; and (2) to immerse students in hypothetical 13th-century reconstructions of the cathedral and town. During the 2007-08 academic year, the project will be undergoing a radical update and transformation.