3 Tips for Zooming into Artwork Details

Imagine looking at a painting for the hundredth time, but having it seem like you never saw that work of art before. You could be having a whole new experience – emotionally and visually. What is really in that work of art? What did the artist want you to see? What do you want your visitors to see? These are questions are important to get your visitors to come back, time and time again.

We recently worked for the major retrospective ‘Jheronimus Bosch – Visions of genius’ at Het Noordbrabants Museum in the Dutch city of Den Bosch, where the painter lived, worked and named himself after. Bosch’s highly detailed works of art are chock full of fascinating and gruesome details depicting the great themes of his time - temptation, sin and judgement – and it was our job to introduce visitors to them, for the first time or for the hundredth. Mariëlle van Tilburg, Executive Producer of Digital Media in Amsterdam, created an onsite tour in 6 languages and edited stories for the interactive documentary on the museum’s website. She provided three insights on this project:

Give Directions to Help Visitors Find Details

Help listeners look at a painting by find a starting detail and guiding their eye. Start the story from there, then guide them across the artwork and allow the listener time to follow and explore. The information order should mirror the way visitors look at the work with each point flowing to the next. For instance, in Bosch’s work, the script was written to draw the listener’s eye by zooming in on a single detail at a time, making a visual journey from detail to detail. In the Garden of Earthly Delights interactive, the focus is on just one detail at a time to disclose bigger themes, such as the recurrent use of animals as ominous warnings of danger: threatening owls, fearsome flying fish, black crows, a bear hanging from a tree, or a dragon emerging from a ruin.

Pick Curious Things to Zoom Into

If you’d never seen the object before, what would you ask yourself first? The fascinating and gruesome details in Bosch’s work provided us with a wealth of details to zoom in on. Details in a painting are chosen to be included in the script if they catch our attention, as though we are seeing it for the first time without any background knowledge. What stands out can be large or small, but is always something curious. At the same time, visitors are interested in details that might easily overlooked but disclose amazing stories. In one of Bosch’ Ecce Homo paintings, there is a baby depicted, at the feet of a woman – it is casually lying there, seemingly not really part of the story. It’s fascinating, sad and amazing to learn that this detail was a way to represent deceased children in medieval art.. Contrastingly, the drawing “The Field has Eyes, The Wood has Ears.” is immediately curious because of are the large human ears in among the trees and eyes peering out from the grass! This detail has a large message - you need to take care with your secrets wherever other people may be; be watchful and silent.

Use Context from Other Sources

Putting detailed information into context helps the visitor understand what they are seeing. Most people have seen heaven as a bright light tunnel but few know that Bosch was the first painter to depict heaven that way!


Want to take your own tour of a Bosch artwork? Explore The Garden of Earthly Delights here!

*This post is part of our series for #Museumweek, specifically #ZoomMW.

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