National Gallery reunites Veronese painting with Italian church for the first time in 200 years in digital exhibitionVirtual Veronese

7 March 2022 – 3 April 2022
Admission free, ticketed

The National Gallery is to bring a sixteenth-century altarpiece back to the chapel for which it was created, for the first time in over 200 years, through a new digital experience.

Visitors to the Gallery will experience Veronese’s painting The Consecration of Saint Nicholas as it would have been seen in its original Italian church setting in 1562 by using virtual reality headsets. The free digital exhibition will be available in 20-minute ticketed sessions that will be available from the Gallery’s website from late January.

Image: Paolo Veronese, ‘The Consecration of Saint Nicholas’, 1562
Image: Still from inside the ‘Virtual Veronese’ Virtual Reality experience © Focal Point VR

Through this innovative experience, visitors will be able to see the painting in its original chapel in the church of San Benedetto al Po, near Mantua, and explore the beautiful frescoes and architecture that once surrounded it. Visitors will be able to choose from one of two virtual guides who will lead them through the experience: our curator, Dr Rebecca Gill, who explores the painting and frescoes, or the historical figure of Abbot Asola, who commissioned the painting from Veronese and reveals the threat facing the monastery at the time.

‘Virtual Veronese’, which creates a 3D model of the chapel, began as a research and development project looking at how the Gallery can share research with a wider audience by using immersive technologies to explore new ways of telling its stories.

Image: 3D Capture, Mesh Optimisation of the Chapel of Saint Nicholas in the Church of San Benedetto al Po, Mantua, Italy created by ScanLAB projects, commissioned by the National Gallery
Image: National Gallery visitors in headsets in the ‘Virtual Veronese’ experience

Veronese’s ‘The Consecration of Saint Nicholas’ was commissioned in 1561 as an altarpiece to hang in San Benedetto al Po, the abbey church of one of the largest and most important Benedictine monasteries in Europe.

The church had been radically remodelled and enlarged in 1539 by Giulio Romano, Raphael’s prime pupil and himself a great painter and architect.

The altarpiece remained in San Benedetto al Po until the 1820s, when it was removed from the church during the Napoleonic Wars.

The digital experience is accompanied by a recording of Gregorian chant, performed by Veneti Cantores. The piece of music is taken from a choral book that was produced at San Benedetto al Po in the 1560s and is therefore contemporary with Veronese’s altarpiece. The music that you hear is the same as that performed by the monks nearly 500 years ago.

Lawrence Chiles, Head of Digital at the National Gallery, London, says: ‘‘Virtual Veronese’ has enabled us to understand how immersive storytelling can add depth of experience, meaning, and emotion to Gallery visitors’ engagement with our paintings.’

Dr Rebecca Gill, Ahmanson Curator in Art and Religion (August 2016 – March 2020), at the National Gallery, London, says: ‘Through this project we are able to bring architecture into the Gallery and allow our visitors to explore for themselves what it might have been like to stand in front of Veronese’s painting some 500 years ago.’

‘Virtual Veronese’ is curated by Dr Rebecca Gill, Ahmanson Curator in Art and Religion (August 2016 – March 2020), at the National Gallery, London.

This experience is for visitors aged 13 years or over.

Commissioned by the National Gallery and StoryFutures

Virtual Veronese was commissioned as part of the Gallery’s partnership with StoryFutures, funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council’s Creative Cluster’s programme to drive innovation and growth in the UK’s creative economy.

Virtual Veronese is an exciting example of new forms of research and development funded by the AHRC’s Creative Cluster’s programme.

The immersive experience was developed and produced by Focal Point VR, focalpointvr.com

Supported by Howard and Roberta Ahmanson