With 3D scale models, music, and video, Google's Versailles 3D brings the best of 21st century web arts to 18th century art history. The palace was built by Louis XIV, the “Sun King,” who exemplified all of the authoritarian excesses of the French monarchy. Fortunately for posterity, he was also a patron of the arts, to whom we owe much of the work of Moliere, Racine and painters such as Charles Le Brun. And then there is his architectural legacy, the palace of Versailles, which started out as a humble hunting lodge, built by his father Louis XIII in 1624. In the next several decades, father, then son, commissioned the elaborate set of buildings that constitute Europe’s largest chateau and the seat of French government from Louis XIV's ascension until the Revolution of 1789. If you’re thinking of visiting, the official chateau de Versailles website has slideshows of grounds and galleries, a boutique, and some worthwhile interactive features. But Google, as usual, has tried to outdo its competition, this time by partnering with it. In connection with the Versailles curators, The Google Cultural Institute has created a multimedia almost-substitute for a real life excursion to the gargantuan and enduring symbol of Ancien Regime France.
The next video is a preview of a “Google Chrome Experiment” called “Chaos to Perfection,” an “interactive stroll around the palace,” accompanied by an original soundtrack from French band Phoenix. (The “experiment” itself is somewhat slow loading, and requires the Chrome browser).
Finally, the engineers at Google (and partners Aloest, Westimages, le FabShop and Les 84) give us a look behind the scenes of Versailles 3D. Wonder how they created the elaborate 3D scale models of the palace grounds and buildings? Well, the video below provides a barrage of backstage glimpses of the process, along with scenes from the opening of the Palace History Gallery on June 14th.
And, of course, there will be mobile apps, Google promises, "soon."
Josh Jones is a doctoral candidate in English at Fordham University and a co-founder and former managing editor of Guernica / A Magazine of Arts and Politics.