Ways of Seeing

September 20, 2022

The Fitzwilliam Museum

🍵 1 min to read (suggested)

This project was an Augmented Reality intervention to accompany the Inspire 2020 exhibition held in the Octagon gallery of the Fitzwilliam Museum.

The exhibition

The Inspire2020 exhibition at the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge, UK (December 2019–March 2020) brought together artwork by schoolchildren, the interpretative possibilities of augmented reality (AR), and scientific, educational and art-historical expertise at the University of Cambridge to explore one of museum’s best-known Renaissance pictures: Jacopo del Sellaio’s engaging narrative of the mythical romance between Cupid, matchmaker to the gods of pagan antiquity, and the mortal Psyche, painted in Florence in the 1470s.

The App

Links with scholars in Florence suggested the possibility of extending the display through digital interpretation. Working with cultural heritage app developer Maggioli Musei, University of Florence researcher Giovanni Pescarmona had already created a smartphone app for the Museo Bandini in Fiesole using AR to provide iconographic analysis, conservation data, and montages with companion pieces in other collections. Pescarmona and his colleagues now adapted their Bandini template for the Inspire2020 display. As a centrepiece for this exhibition, the Story of Cupid and Psyche: M.75 was the focal object, and it was this (as shown in the IIIF embed below) that was the subject of the AR app.

The new ‘Ways of Seeing’ smartphone app locks on to the artwork when the phone is held before the painting. The navigation bar at the bottom of the screen offers three overlay modes: ‘Microscopy’ (high magnification photography), ‘Infrared’ and ‘X-ray’.

The zooming level of the overlay images synchronises with the user’s movements, as if the phone itself were scanning the work in real time. Each mode highlights points of interest with circular hotspots that rhythmically fade in and out of view: tapping these accesses magnified details and explanatory text. The ‘Microscopy’ mode explores different pigments, ‘Infrared’ focuses on pentimenti in the underdrawing, and ‘X-ray’ picks out details like metal nails within the wooden structure. The interface thus combines curated content with user-led exploration of the technical data.

Screen captures

The screen captured video below shows the app in action, the resolution of the capture is not particularly high, but it gives a sense of the experience. The app is now defunct as the Vuforia license has expired.

People I worked with

  • Donal Cooper
  • Kate Noble
  • Jo Vine
  • Giovanni Pescarmona
  • Vicky Sutcliffe
  • Paola Ricciardi
  • Rosanna Evans
  • Elsbeth Geldhof


  • Cooper, D. & Noble, K. (2020) "Schoolchildren, science and smartphones shine new light on a Florentine masterpiece" Apollo (online publication only April 2020)