Mapping Art and Architecture in Renaissance Venice was one of several interactive learning projects funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities and incorporated into the Columbia University Art Humanities curriculum. For contemporary researchers and students of Renaissance studies, visual materials like Jacopo de’Barbari’s Bird’s Eye View of Venice are an invaluable source of information. The map is a monumental woodblock print dated 1500, consisting of six large sheets each measuring more than 1.2 by 2.7 meters. Since the original format and fragile nature of the map made it almost inaccessible to students and general audiences, a digitized version of de’Barbari’s map from the collection of the Cleveland Museum of Art was incorporated in a web space along with collective satellite image data to be used as a companion program to Columbia students’ advanced study of Venetian history, art, and architecture.
Can a computer representation program preserve the characteristics of de’Barbari’s map and possibly enhance geographical knowledge with additional spatial data such as modern satellite imagery? Instead of a “clickable” and “zoomified” digital map, the guiding tool was designed to enhance cognitive learning. To imitate the experience of using a magnifying glass to find things on a real map, a digital replica was designed as a guiding device on the screen to explore the urban topography of Renaissance Venice. By dragging the magnifying glass across the surface, the details of the map became visible, including the identifying inscriptions in Venetian dialect that accompany many of the buildings.
This prototype program was designed before Google became a major player in the mapping industry that having a look at landmarks and tourist attractions in a breeze and GIS giant ESRI started providing accessible Web story mapping tool for laypeople who are also interested in making their own journey. With more advanced technology, I assume there will be ways to improve the quality of the image while viewing the map using a more precise level of zoom control. Some essential features employed in this website, however, like information way-finding as a metaphor for discovery, would remain unchanged and integral to the spirit of the project.