Digital mapping technology has been around for awhile, but it’s only recently that it’s been applied to art history. University researchers are receiving grants from sources such as the Getty Foundation to build web applications for users to explore and research historic sites.
Historians increasingly are getting a new perspective on the past by connecting the worlds of art history with computer mapping technology.
“It actually lets you think about how people lived in these spaces, moved through these spaces," said Heather MacDonald, senior program officer at the Getty Foundation. "How art works interacted and would have been seen and understood in relationship to one another."
3-D animation and digital mapping allow people to explore and research archeological sites and historic cities to better understand the environment where art objects were found.
“Because of the developments in computer science and in regular standard computers even laptops have made this kind of work much easier for art historians,” said Duke University Art History Professor Paul Jaskot, who directs the Wired Lab for Digital Art History and visual culture.
The data could include archival information that spans hundreds of years such as a map of the growth of Rio de Janeiro in Brazil.
For the project, called Visualizing the Mountain Estate, researchers combined digital maps and 3-D modeling of the Qing Dynasty imperial park in China. They used survey maps and historic sources such as woodblock prints, texts and paintings from the 18th and 19th centuries to show how the park changed over time.
In the Hidden Florence project, augmented reality is used to explore art history in the home of the renaissance. Users can interact with a 16th century map that is embedded into the application as they tour this old Italian city.
"You can start to layer historical evidence or historical views or historical material onto that physical environment,” Jaskot said.
“I think that’s the great thing about digital art history is that it gives us all kinds of new horizons both to answer old questions and to ask new ones,” MacDonald said.
And with more understanding of the past, it may allow for more awareness of the art that is currently on display in today’s cities.