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For a guided tour of the Virtual Studiolo, see our video below.

Can we go to places that no longer exist? And if Virtual Reality could in some sense take us there, what would we want to do, once inside? Humanists, computer scientists, and digital artists at IDEA: Isabella d’Este Archive are exploring answers to these very questions through The Virtual Studiolo Project, an immersive, 3D environment inspired by two miniscule and magnificent rooms made famous in sixteenth-century Mantua by Isabella d’Este. 


This pair of adjoining chambers in Isabella’s apartments, known as the studiolo  (study) and the grotta (cave or grotto), were conceived by their owner as signature spaces for displaying her culture.  These camerini  (“little rooms,” as she often called them) had several reasons for being. Primarily, they were a showcase for Isabella’s humanist taste and learning, a place to display her collections of paintings, sculptures, antiquities, books, coins, gems, musical instruments, clocks, and natural curiosities. As suggested by their acoustic features and visual program, they also served as an intimate performance chamber for Isabella the musician. And last but not least, they offered a solitary retreat from the stresses of court life: surrounded by a personally ornamented space and the carefully assembled objects that projected her values, the marchesa of Mantua sought silent reflection in these quarters and the enclosed, secret garden they accessed.


To Isabella and her contemporaries, the studiolo’s contents spoke volumes, both as individual pieces and in conversation with each other. Many of the 366 items once held in the grotta and the 39 in the studiolo are forever lost, as are the 140 books in the studiolo library and all of Isabella’s musical instruments. Those that remain are dispersed in museums around the world. The ambition of the Virtual Studiolo is to harness our own knowledge and creativity to build a virtual space where the surviving objects and approximations of those that are lost may meet again in Virtual Reality, in new conversations that we, too, may hear.

Prefer to dive in deeper? Don a VR headset or Google Cardboard and immerse yourself in the animated Virtual Studiolo VR prototype. Here you can move through the camerini and view the spaces and some of their contents in a 3-D experience that serves as a prototype for future development. 

Check out also our "how we built this" videos (linked below) to learn about techniques that were employed by Cineca in the 3D modeling process using Blender.


More objects and tools will be added to the Virtual Studiolo and the Virtual Studiolo VR in subsequent releases. Isabella’s camerini were a sight and sound experience that was meant to be immersive: in-the-round, floor to ceiling, and textured by music and reading. The Virtual Studiolo aims to be not a replica but a modern “remastering” of these celebrated Renaissance chambers that we hope will inspire new questions, new research, and new insights about the studiolo and grotta of Isabella d’Este and the culture that inspired it.






Guided tour  (Italian)


Guided tour  (English)


VR Prototype (requires VR viewing device)


Timelapse of shading in Blender


Timelapse of modeling in Blender


Making a wax seal animation in Blender

Anne MacNeil, Co-principal Investigator

University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill

Deanna Shemek, Principal Investigator

University of California, Irvine

Virtual Studiolo Phase 1 ROLES






Cineca Supercomputing Center Design Team, Bologna

Project Manager

Antonella Guidazzoli, MEng, MA


Researcher and Content Coordinator

Maria Chiara Liguori, Ph.D, MA, MPS


User Interface Designer and Analyst, Software Developer,

Hardware and Software Adviser

Silvano Imboden, MCS


Computer Graphics Designer, Blender Artist, Computer Graphic Supervisor and Coordinator,

Pipeline Manager, Software and Hardware Integration  Manager

Daniele De Luca, MCS


Art Director for Immersive Environments,

Visual Interface Coordinator, User Experience Analyst

Giovanni Bellavia, MPhil, BFA


3D Modeler, Computer Graphics Contributor

Federica Farroni, MEng


Designer and Developer of 3D Web Application, User Interactions Analyst

Beatrice Chiavarini, M Arch


Intern, User Interface Analyst

Eleonora Peruch, MA Digital Humanities & Digital Knowledge, BA Humanities



Kunsthistorisches Museum Photographer

Christian Mendez


Inventory Advisor

Daniela Ferrari, IDEA Co-director


Art Historical Advisors

Molly Bourne, Ph.D, Syracuse University in Florence 

Stephen Campbell, Ph.D, The Johns Hopkins University



National Endowment for the Humanities

Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna

Museo del Palazzo Ducale, Mantua

Humanities Center, University of California, Irvine

Office of Research, University of California, Irvine

University of California Humanities Research Institute

The Humanities Institute, University of California, Santa Cruz

Samuel H. Kress Foundation

International Museum of Ceramics, Faenza Italy

Archivio di Stato, Mantua

Dorothy Ford Wiley Fund, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill

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