An incredible 80 percent of the Louvre’s 10 million yearly visitors find their way to the Salle des États to catch a glimpse of the Mona Lisa. It’s so popular that it wasn’t included in the ongoing Leonardo da Vinci exhibition, for fear that the bustle to the painting would make it “practically unvisitable.” The curators used the opportunity to put together the museum’s first-ever virtual reality project, offering visitors a seven-minute experience of a work titled Mona Lisa: Beyond the Glass.
Visitors can strap themselves into the state-of-the-art headsets and learn snippets of information about Leonardo’s famous sitter, Lisa del Giocondo, as well as his artistic method and the history of the painting. It will immerse them in what could be the surroundings beyond the frame of what is depicted in Leonardo’s masterpiece, and, at the end, invite them to climb aboard an imagined version of Leonardo’s visionary flying machine—a sketch of which is also included in the exhibition—and soar across the landscape surrounding Mona Lisa’s luxuriant loggia.
An interesting detail to this initiative is that although digital experiences like this are usually meant to broaden a museum’s public and draw more visitors, the Louvre definitely doesn’t need to be better known. They put this project together because “The museum still wants to amplify whatever it does beyond those who can actually set foot in the museum.”
The initiative is part of a broader plan to make culture accessible to a wider public. Efforts have been underway in France to redistribute some of its cultural resources around the country. The French culture minister Franck Riester plans to introduce a number of small-scale digital museums around France that will showcase high-resolution digital copies of works from the country’s 12 national public collections, including the Louvre, with people in remote regions. With more than $3 million invested in the plan, the small digital museums—dubbed “micro-folies”—are expected to number 1,000 within three years.