AccScience Publishing / AC / Volume 2 / Issue 2 / DOI: 10.36922/ac.2719

Simulacra and historical fidelity in digital recreation of lost cultural heritage: Reconstituting period materialities for the period eye

Trent Olsen1* James Hutson2 Charles O'Brien1 Jeremiah Ratican3
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1 Department of Art History and Visual Culture, Lindenwood University, Professor of Art History and Visual Culture, Saint Charles, Missouri, United States of America
2 Department of Art, Art History, and Design, University of Alabama Huntsville, Assistant Professor of Art, Huntsville, Alabama, United States of America
3 Department of Art, Media and Production, Associate Professor of Game Design, Lindenwood University, Saint Charles, Missouri, United States of America
Submitted: 12 January 2024 | Accepted: 14 March 2024 | Published: 14 May 2024
© 2024 by the Author(s). This article is an open access article distributed under the terms and conditions of the Creative Commons Attribution -Noncommercial 4.0 International License (CC-by the license) ( )

The advancement of digital technologies in art history has opened avenues for reconstructing lost or damaged cultural heritage, a need highlighted by the deteriorated state of many artworks from the 1785 Salon. Grounded in the concept of the “Period Eye” by art historian Michael Baxandall, which emphasizes understanding artworks within their original historical and cultural contexts, this study proposes a subfield focused on Reconstituting Period Materialities for the Period Eye. This methodology bridges comprehensive historical research with generative visual artificial intelligence (AI) technologies, facilitating the creation and immersive virtual reality viewing of artworks. Beyond mere visual replication, the approach aims to recreate the material and textural realities of the period, thereby enabling contemporary audiences to experience these works as they were originally perceived. The process includes replicating building materials using Quixel Megascans, employing AI for generating images of lost artworks, and utilizing normal maps for simulating painting textures, all contributing to an authentic reconstruction of the Salon’s ambiance and materiality. This approach, met with some skepticism from traditional historians and archeologists, asserts that such digital reconstitution, backed by rigorous empirical research and detailed period-specific datasets, yields reconstructions of greater historical accuracy and contextual richness. This mirrors strides in sound archeology, endorsing a similar empirical approach in visual material recreation. The significance of this study is underscored by its potential to enrich our comprehension of historical artworks through a “Period Eye,” blending historical insights with modern technological innovation for a deeper understanding and appreciation of cultural heritage.

Digital reconstruction
Cultural heritage
Generative visual artificial intelligence
Period materialities
Period Eye
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Conflict of interest
The authors declare that they have no competing interests.
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Arts & Communication, Electronic ISSN: 2972-4090 Published by AccScience Publishing