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Last Updated: Friday, 18 April, 2003, 10:07 GMT 11:07 UK
Classic artworks turn 3D
Jane Wakefield
BBC News Online technology staff

A virtual world that allows people to walk alongside the apostles or Christ himself has been created by researchers.

Extract from The Trinity by Masaccio
Take your place inside a Renaissance painting
A technique developed by Microsoft has given unique access to the world of the Old Masters, allowing people to virtually explore every aspect of a painting such as The Flagellation of Christ by Renaissance master Piero della Francesca.

Researchers at Microsoft's UK research lab based in Cambridge have developed algorithms that generate new views of a painting or portions of it, allowing art historians to analyse the shape and proportion of objects.

The technique can also create a three-dimensional reconstruction of the whole painting.

Virtual museums

"You feel yourself present in the painting and could even find yourself next to Christ," explained Antonio Criminisi, one of the researchers on the project.

It is hoped the new imaging technologies will help bring the world of art and computer science closer and has already sparked intense debate among art historians.

An argument over how much the great painters of the Renaissance relied on technologies such as mirrors to help them create perspective in their painting could be solved by analysis using such techniques.

It could also transform the public's view of museums, with a virtual tour no longer limited to the building in which works of art are housed.

"A virtual museum on the web means you work around the corridors. We think this is a little boring," said Mr Criminisi.

"How much better to be able to walk inside the painting itself," he added.

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