Reimagining a Medieval Choir Screen

December 21, 2016

Andrea Basso, Elisa Castagna

In Fall 2016, the Wired! Lab hosted two Master’s students, Andrea Basso and Elisa Castagna, from the University of Padua. The following is an account of their experience at Duke and the project they worked on.

Project Sta. Chiara in Naples

Nave with Choir Screen


Sta. Chiara is one of the largest churches of Naples, erected between 1310 and c. 1340 by the King and Queen of Naples, Robert the Wise and Sancia of Mallorca.  It was reconstructed after the Allied bombardment of August, 1943, which damaged the walls and destroyed the stucco decoration of the 18th century.

In the Middle Ages the nave of Sta. Chiara, as in other religious buildings, was divided into several sections by a choir screen, or tramezzo.  These were substantial masonry walls that separated the lay public from the clergy; in the case of this church, the choir screen would have included chapels and altars that were important for the devotion of the lay public.

Prof. Caroline Bruzelius (Duke University) has worked with a group of students and colleagues at Duke University and the Universities of Padua, Naples, and Salerno on this project, trying to reconstruct the choir screen and the church with the help of 3D technologies. Creating a 3D model enabled the research team to think through the various options and arrive at a plausible hypothesis of the dimensions of the choir screen at Sta. Chiara, engaging as well with issues of visibility from the nave of the church through to the main altar and the tomb of King Robert the Wise (d. 1343).

Choir Screen with Entablature

Elisa Castagna and Andrea Basso, two students of Building Engineering and Architecture at the the University of Padua, created with the help of Paolo Borin, a PhD student at the IUAV University of Venice, a 3D model with Revit, a building information modeling software that allows architects and other building professionals to design and document a building by creating a parametric three-dimensional model that included both the geometry and non-geometric design and construction information.

The point cloud of the interior and the exterior of Sta. Chiara produced by Emanuela De Feo at the University of Salerno was the starting point of the reconstruction: it allowed us to create a scale 3D model and to build new parametric objects in Revit that represent each type of window, wall, door, roof, vault, and column.

Floor Plan

The reconstruction of the choir screen was based on the evidence of geo-radar groundscans given by Prof. Leopoldo Repola (University of Naples) with the help of Prof. Andrea Giordano (University of Padua):  good evidence of the location of a monumental partition wall was found.

Working with Andrea and Elisa, Lucas Giles,  an MA student in Digital Art History at Duke, and Prof. Caroline Bruzelius were able to produce a hypothetical model of the tramezzo through historical data, geo-radar evidence and the 3D church: thanks to the power of the parametric modeling the choir screen could change the shape and the size easily, so it was possible to see how the tramezzo connected with the entire church.

In order to study also the issues of visibility from the nave through to the main altar and the tomb of King Robert the Wise, these last two elements were built and placed in the model of the church.

Finally the modeling team decided to insert on the top of the choir screen the relief that was destroyed during the war: with the help of some pictures before the destruction it was possible to create a simple model with the use of Photoshop and CrazyBump of how the relief could have appeared.

The last step was to export the model of the church into 3D StudioMax and then into Unity. This latter software was used to write scripts with the help of David Zielinski, Research and Development Engineer for the Duke Immersive Virtual Environment (DiVE), and Prof. Regis Kopper (Duke University) in order to visualize the model inside the Cardboard and the Duke’s immersive environment: in this way it was possible to see the relationship between the choir screen and the interior of the church in full scale.

Exterior of Sta. Chiara

During this workflow other aspects concerning the use of Revit were analysed:

  • how to export the geometry from Revit to 3DStudioMax
  • the research about passing BIM information through Unity, in which all elements have their ID and their properties
  • how to obtain a 3D printed model from a Revit file
  • the importation of mesh inside Revit and Dynamo

The development of this project has required the knowledge of Photoscan, Recap, Autocad, Revit, Dynamo and MeshLab for the modeling of the church, Photoshop and CrazyBump for the relief’s reconstruction, and 3DStudioMax and Unity in order to visualize the project in virtual reality.

About Our Experience

Working with Prof. Caroline Bruzelius we were able to develop our knowledge about Building Information Modeling and how to use this tool for historical research; for the first time we could work with virtual reality and with software that we had never used before.

This experience has taught us not only how to work with people of different disciplines and how our knowledge in the field of Achitecture and Engineering can be used to obtain a good model and visualization, but also how to build a model that contains for each element qualitative and quantitative information.

Any of this wouldn’t have been possible if many people, with different knowledge backgrounds, hadn’t come together to work towards a common goal. It has been a remarkable experience for us, being able to engage with a lot of different people and get to know Duke University, in particular the people and the projects of the Wired! Lab in the department of Art, Art History and Visual Studies.

Spring Undergraduate Fellowships

December 5, 2016

Wired! is excited to announce new research opportunities for Duke undergraduates in Spring 2017. Interested in becoming a Wired! Fellow? You could become part of a team that is animating historical imagery; building a historical geospatial database; or designing an interactive mobile app for the Nasher. Read the project descriptions below for more information!

If you would like to participate, please send an email detailing relevant experience & interest in participation to the project leader(s) of your choice listed below.


Map History: Paris of Waters

Applications will be accepted for motivated students with a solid reading knowledge of French. This project takes an innovative approach to urban history. It redirects the focus from Paris’ built environment to a study of its infrastructure as related to water—its management through navigable above-ground waterways, underground works, hydraulics, waste management, and the provision of drinking water to the city’s inhabitants. Students will mine published historic city records related to water, making a contribution to a research-based digital visualization of data findings. Applications should be submitted to Professor Sara Galletti, sara.galletti[at]


Develop Components of a Digital Exhibition: Jacopo de’ Barbari’s Portrait of Venice

project-portrait-thumbApplications will be accepted for students with a range of research, computer science, and data visualization skills. The project includes an exhibition opening at the Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University in September 2017. The experience of seeing the original woodblock print of Jacopo de’ Barbari’s View of Venice, ca. 1500, from the Minneapolis Institute of Arts will be enriched by a series of interactive, innovative digital displays. These displays engage not only with the inventions necessary for making a groundbreaking work of art, but also with historical and social themes visible in the print. Students will conduct various assignments directly related to the digital displays for the exhibition. Applications should be submitted to Professor Kristin Lanzoni, kristin.lanzoni[at]


Create an Interactive Museum Display in the Nasher: The Medieval Arch from Alife, Italy

project-alife-orig2This research team will produce a digital interactive display for the Nasher Museum during the Spring of 2017, a display that will focus attention on the wild beasts and critters of the remarkable arch from the town of Alife, near Naples.  Students will be expected to learn new skills, such as vector painting in 3D studio Max and other digital representational technologies.  This will be fun! Team leader will be Lucas Giles, MA in Digital Art History, Duke University, working closely with Professor C. Bruzelius, Julia Liu, and the Wired! team. Applications should be submitted to Professor Caroline Bruzelius, caroline.bruzelius[at]


Related Projects

A Portrait of Venice

Paris of Waters

Kingdom of Sicily Image Database Launches!

November 1, 2016

The Kingdom of Sicily Image Database ( collects historic drawings, paintings, engravings and photographs that depict the medieval monuments and cities South Italy erected between c. 1100 and c. 1450 CE.  The images are gathered from museums, libraries, archives, and publications, and for the most part they depict monuments prior to destruction or significant alteration as a result of wars, earthquakes, extensive restoration, and simple neglect.  The dates of the images range from the late sixteenth through the mid-twentieth centuries.  A number of twentieth-century photographs show damage from the devastating WWII bombardments in South Italy, as well as of the process of restoration.

The Kingdom of Sicily Image Database includes location maps and a “slide show” feature to enable travelers and scholars to locate monuments in large cities such as Naples or Palermo.  The slide show enables comparisons of historic images of specific sites.  Images are reproduced at low resolution, and viewers are directed towards the collections of origin for higher quality images and further information.  All users are requested to agree to the terms of use prior to utilizing the website.

The project was initiated with a Collaborative Research Grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities.  Technical development (database, website, and storage) are provided by Trinity Technology Services at Duke University.  The Hertziana Library assisted with consultation, library resources, an office, and meeting space.  The Department of Art, Art History and Visual Studies and the Wired! Lab at Duke University has hosted the project and actively participated in the design and development of the database and website.

The database is a work in progress and is by no means exhaustive or complete.

Related Projects

The Kingdom of Sicily Image Database

A Tour of the NC Art Museum’s “Reunited: Francescuccio Ghissi’s St. John Altarpiece “

September 16, 2016

The North Carolina Museum of Art recently opened a new exhibition in collaboration with a Duke University research group, Image Processing for Art Investigation (IPAI), headed by Professor Ingrid Daubechies. A group from Wired! traveled to Raleigh to tour the exhibit with the museum’s head conservator, Bill Brown, and our own member of the project team, Ed Triplett. The exhibit tells the story of a fourteenth-century Italian altarpiece, its conservation, and scholars’ attempts to understand how it was made through modern recreation. In addition to the altarpiece itself, the narrative is shared with museum goers through digital models, videos, and material displays. Triplett contributed to a 3D digital rendering of the altarpiece that simulates how the altarpiece may have appeared at the time of its creation.

The exhibition will be open through March 5, 2017. Read more about the project’s development here.

Photos by Caroline Bruzelius & Lee Sorensen.

Published: Visualizing Venice Workshop Materials

September 1, 2016

We’re publishing our Visualizing Venice 2016 Summer Workshop materials online under a CC-BY-NC-SA 3.0 license. These include our schedule, slides, tutorials, and links to other resources. The site was edited throughout the workshop, and we’ve made only minor changes to its organization. (Remember, a messy desk is a sign of creativity.) We hope you’ll use these and share them with your students and colleagues! (Just remember to cite your sources.) Enjoy!

Access the Visualizing Venice: The Ghetto of Venice Website.

Read more about the Visualizing Venice Summer Workshop.

Back To School Tutorials for Teaching

August 24, 2016

It still feels like summer in Durham, but classes start next week. As we’re preparing our syllabi, we’re also pulling together resources for integrating tools like Omeka, TimelineJS, StoryMapJS, and others into our teaching. Here are a few of the new or updated guides we’ve just published. They are packed with basic how-tos, ideas for workflow and project management, tips and tricks for beginners and advanced users, and resources for learning more about how other scholars are making use of these tools. Use these to teach yourself and your students! Check out our Tutorials page for more guides and resources.

  • Build digital archives & exhibits with
  • Create historical timelines collaboratively in TimelineJS.
  • Develop and share spatial narratives with StoryMapJS.

Questions or comments? Send them to hannah[dot]jacobs[at]duke[dot]edu.

Banner image sources: Omeka and The Knight Lab.