Monday, 23 October 2017 22:07

The Seeing Glass

Written by  Jessica Jenkins

Virtual Reality Experience at the Delaware Art Museum

November 18–January 14, 2018


Delaware Art Museum Pre-Raphaelite artInspired by the Delaware Art Museum’s renowned collection of Pre-Raphaelite art, artist collaborators Troy Richards and Knut Hybinette developed the Museum’s first virtual reality (VR) experience and re-imagined the world inside a richly layered Victorian painting. Painted in 1875 by Dante Gabriel Rossetti, La Bella Mano features three female figures in a Victorian-era home with a circular mirror reflecting an adjacent room.

The seeing glass will be on view in the Museum’s Pre-Raphaelite galleries and transforms the painting into a 3-dimensional waking dream with lavish decor and decaying displays of flowers, fruit, insects and skulls. This VR experience—using Unreal Engine, a gaming program by Epic Games—allows viewers to become absorbed in a virtual reality of historical painting and witness the artificial passage of time.

Viewers will be guided to put on the VR Oculus Rift headset and will initially find themselves in a Victorian-era room, filled with ornate furniture, potted plants and elaborate wallpaper. Soft music and a breeze stir the air in the background, as they hear sounds as though someone else is in the room.

Delaware Art Museum Pre-Raphaelite artLike the painting La Bella Mano, there’s no linear narrative to the seeing glass. Instead, viewers are absorbed in the virtual world to find meaning in the symbolism of its objects. The symbols don’t add up to a specific message but make connections to historical still-life painting and the concept of momento mori—a warning or reminder of death. As visitors move through the space, objects become blurred and time speeds up, transforming fruit from green to rotten in seconds.

“The Museum has such an incredible collection, and La Bella Mano offered unique opportunities for using the elements in the painting as inspiration,” says Richards. “This is a physical experience that feels real but is out of reach, much like an intangible dream world.”

The seeing glass is a unique and engaging approach for visitors to be digitally immersed in Pre-Raphaelite art and Victorian history and to see this world through the eyes of contemporary artists. The pairing of La Bella Mano and the seeing glass is an opportunity to view the creations of artists working almost 150 years apart employing a similar approach toward their art.


Delaware Art Museum is home to the largest and most significant British Pre-Raphaelite collection outside the U.K. The seeing glass is a timed-entry viewing experience. Timed appointments are scheduled onsite at the front desk the day of a visit, one person at a time. 2301 Kentmere Pkwy., Wilmington.

Artwork (top to bottom): the seeing glass, 2017, Troy Richards & Knut Hybinette. La Bella Mano, 1875, Dante Gabriel Rossetti.