EPFL lab to digitize 1,000m2 'Swiss national treasure'

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Panorama scroll close-up © Foundation for the Panorama of the Battle of Murten

Panorama scroll close-up © Foundation for the Panorama of the Battle of Murten

Sarah Kenderdine, head of the Laboratory for Experimental Museology, is leading the digitization and valorization of the Panorama of the Battle of Murten - a 100 x 10-meter work created in 1893 by German panorama painter Louis Braun - in an undertaking that promises to yield one of the largest digital images ever produced.

The painting, which depicts the moment that Swiss Confederates gained the upper hand against the Duchy of Burgundy during its 1476 invasion - has never been permanently mounted for public presentation. Following its brief display in Zurich and Geneva in the late 19 century and at the Swiss National Exposition in 2002 (Expo.02), the epic work has spent the last 20 years in a military storage facility - until now.

Thanks to a collaboration between EPFL and the Stiftung für das Panorama der Schlacht bei Murten (Foundation for the Panorama of the Battle of Murten), the painting will be digitized by Kenderdine and her Lab for Experimental Museology (eM+) in the College of Humanities.

The researchers are currently analyzing the panorama for its conservation prior to the digital imaging process. Both activities require a large-scale mechanical platform to hold the conservators working above the painting, and the camera rig that will allow approximately 400,000 images to be taken of its surface.

A 1,600-gigapixel digital twin

The imaging will take advantage of an iXH 150-megapixel camera with a 120mm lens, specifically built for high-resolution digitization projects and provided by camera systems manufacturer Phase One. The process is expected to take four months, and to capture images within and beyond the RGB (red, green, and blue) color spectrum thanks to multispectral imaging.

"As far as any published research has established, this is expected to be the largest single seamless image ever created at 1,600 gigapixels. That’s 1.6 trillion pixels, or picture elements," Kenderdine explains. "The post-production and data science aspects of handling such a large image for a range of stakeholders are crucial to the research outcomes."

The imaging process presents a number of challenges, including capturing a flawless 2D picture despite irregularities on the canvas’s surface. The original canvas is also hyperboloid in shape, as it was intended to be displayed in a circle or rotunda. The painting will therefore need to be carefully ’spooled’ across a substrate to ensure smooth image capture.

Ultimately, the imaging is expected to yield a series of data science and valorization initiatives, as well as an interactive, 360-degree viewing experience for the public. The project partners are planning further fundraising for the panorama’s exhibition. The goal is to create the painting’s digital twin in time for the 550 anniversary of the battle in 2026, and to make Braun’s unique work accessible to all.

"The Murten Panorama is a national treasure, and our project opens us up to a new approach to Swiss history and culture," says Daniel Jaquet, a military historian and member of the Foundation Committee. "It contains not only highly detailed depictions of a battle, but also very rich sociocultural aspects, through the lens of the late 19 -century worldview. With its digitization, we are set free from the confines of a traditional military history approach."


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