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On September 21, the British Museum will launch Troy: beauty and heroism, part of its Spotlight Loan series that follows up on 2019’s Troy: myth and reality. Focused on two central players in the Trojan War, Greek icons Helen and Achilles, the year-long traveling exhibition will tell the story of the campaign through artworks by Dante Gabriel Rossetti  and Pietro Testa, and ancient artifacts like an Etruscan funerary urn and a 2,500-year-old Athenian black-figure pot.

For the first time, visitors can also gain an up-close look at these objects through 3D scans, courtesy of 3D/AR platform Sketchfab. Accessible via onsite QR codes, these virtual objects can be viewed in 360-degrees on smart devices, where users can also zoom in for details and take screenshots.

On view at the touring exhibition: an Athenian black-figure storage jar (below) and its 3D rendering on Sketchfab (below). Images: © The Trustees of the British Museum

What’s behind the partnership?

The partnership between the British Museum and Sketchfab began in 2014 as the museum explored applying 3D technology to its cultural heritage collection. According to Sketchfab, the models were featured as part of several exhibitions and initiatives at the museum over the course of the next few years. 

Since then, the museum has continued to tap Sketchfab’s expertise, particularly in 2017 when it released a 3D model of the Rosetta Stone, in addition to more than 200 objects from its collection. On the Sketchfab platform, the British Museum remains the cultural institution with the largest following.

Troy: beauty and heroism marks the first time the British Museum and Sketchfab have teamed up for a touring exhibition, one that’s set to travel to Reading, Surrey, and Dundee until August 2022. 

Why it matters

3D rendering of a relief from a tufa limestone funerary urn. Image: British Museum and Sketchfab

The past year has centered the importance of digitization as a way to ensure online visitors can access museums’ collections remotely. The British Museums’ 3D offerings on Sketchfab  allow users to further engage with these objects beyond 2D images, while representing digital assets that the institutions can use as part of other campaigns or exhibitions.

As Thomas Flynn, Sketchfab’s Cultural Heritage Lead & Community, tells Jing Culture & Commerce, “By treating the publication of 3D in a similar manner to publishing videos on YouTube, the British Museum has been able to present 3D models to the general public as well as 3D creators without the need to invest in ongoing digital infrastructure and staffing to support a comparable level of online 3D interactivity.”

It’s also timely that the partnership is hitting the road for the first time to accompany physical artifacts. Besides highlighting the museum’s 3D objects for an audience that has grown accustomed to digital platforms, the outing’s hybrid presentation — merging onsite and online — is the kind of model that museums will be looking to post-pandemic.

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What the British Museum and Sketchfab say

“The ancient story of Helen and Achilles is a fascinating one and I’m so pleased we can portray the various facets of beauty and heroism through these rich objects, especially with the 3D offering.” — Victoria Donnellan, Co-curator 

Troy: beauty and heroism is a wonderful example of how online 3D can help cultural organizations reach and engage with national and international audiences in modern and forward thinking ways.” — Thomas Flynn, Cultural Heritage Lead & Community, Sketchfab

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CultureTech, Museums & Cultural Institutions