NEH Grant to Support Virtual Experience of Pope Julius II’s Library

Ahmanson Lab

The National Endowment for the Humanities recently announced a $100,000 grant from the Office of Digital Humanities to build a digital reconstruction and virtual reality experience of Pope Julius II’s library at the Vatican Palace in the room known as the Stanza della Segnatura.

The walls and ceiling of the Stanza della Segnatura were painted by the Renaissance artist Raphael at his patron Julius’ direction. The main frescoes depict great polymaths from Greek antiquity to Julius’ time, including Homer, Plato, Gregory the Great, and Raphael. The frescoes also trace connections between the four primary disciplines of the Renaissance period, Philosophy, Poetry, Theology, and Jurisprudence, which were all prominently represented in the books and manuscripts from Julius’ library.

The NEH-supported project, titled Remastering the Renaissance: A Virtual Experience of Pope Julius II's Library in Raphael's Stanza della Segnatura, builds on the promising results of a USC Sidney Harman Academy for Polymathic Study Ahmanson Lab Collaboratory during the 2019-20 academic year.

During the yearlong interdisciplinary research project, a team of USC students created the first iteration of an interactive virtual environment that allows viewers to explore the Stanza della Segnatura, its vivid frescoes by Raphael, and passages from a Renaissance book by Giorgio Vasari describing the room as it appeared in Julius’ time. While reconstructing a digital version of the Julian Library in a 3D space, USC students analyzed Renaissance books in the USC Libraries' Special Collections; researched the paintings, collected manuscripts, and their authors; and considered Renaissance linear perspective in connection to perspectives in today’s digital environments.

The Collaboratory was led by USC Dornsife College art history professor Lisa Pon and supported by Ahmanson Lab director Curtis Fletcher and USC School of Cinematic Arts professor Andreas Kratky in collaboration with librarians Melinda Hayes and Suzanne Noruschat of the USC Libraries’ Special Collections and art history professor Tracy Cosgriff of The College of Wooster.

During the NEH-supported project, Pon, Cosgriff, Fletcher, and Kratky will work with digital artist and software developer Erik Loyer to create a new iteration of the virtual experience along with an integration of the Unity software platform used for 3D game environments with the open-source Scalar platform for multimodal digital scholarship. Loyer is a USC School of Cinematic Arts graduate (92’), current Civic Media Scholar at the Annenberg Innovation Lab, and longtime collaborator with USC Sidney Harman Academy director and USC School of Cinematic Arts professor Tara McPherson and Curtis Fletcher on the Scalar project.

The Ahmanson Lab’s Collaboratories are interdisciplinary, team-based research labs designed to engage USC students in critical making—activities that bridge critical thinking and digital fabrication. They are polymathic in nature, bringing USC faculty, experts, artists, designers, and students together at the Ahmanson Lab over an academic year. They are organized around topics, problems or set of questions that are best explored via the hands-on design and production of digital artifacts.

Collaboratories are designed and coordinated by one or more USC faculty in cooperation with Curtis Fletcher and Samir Ghosh at the Ahmanson Lab of the USC Sidney Harman Academy. Past Collaboratories have explored topics such as terraforming Mars, envisioning alternate futures for participatory democracy, and creating a mobile app for immersive, L.A.-focused journalism in partnership with the L.A. Times. USC faculty interested in proposing a 2021-22 Collaboratory should contact Fletcher at cfletche@usc.edu.