A 3D Music Simulation: Bringing Back the Magic of San Marco

During the late-seventeenth-century and eighth-century, the city of Venice was the early center of music performance. Welcoming distinguished composers, the Doge’s private chapel – the basilica of San Marco, turned Venice into a paradise for musicians and artists.

What Inspired Us to Take off

Fascinated by the history of music and culture in Venice, we wanted to give an opportunity to a number of users to see a ceremonial performance from the seventeenth century at the basilica of San Marco. To make the experience more vivid, we had in mind to construct a 3D model of the place and embed into it the oeuvres of world-class composers and musicians, e.g. Claudio Monteverdi, Giovanni Legrenzi, Giovanni Gabrieli, etc. Over the last years, 3D modeling software has become really popular in historical reconstruction because it creates a real feeling of space and provides easy and remote access to many users.

The Style of 3D Graphics

Since the main goal of our research project is to simulate and re-create the atmosphere of the ceremonial performances, we have focused our full attention on the 3D construction of the interior of the basilica of San Marco, using the SketchUp 3D software. To start out, we found floor plans and sections of the building, which helped us to keep the big picture in mind. Moreover, to master the details of the place, we have tried to use tourists’ photos of the basilica. However, the lack of images on particular parts of the building has been a significant obstacle for us. We were not able to gather all the details together; therefore, the only option we had was to visit ourselves the awe-inspiring basilica of San Marco.

Traveling to Venice

After spending hours inside the basilica and making drawings of the most important parts of the place, we had a much clearer view of how our 3D model needed to be constructed. We had the opportunity to explore in detail every inch of the basilica and to finally see the place, which we have been researching throughout the semester. Although we could not cover the particularly rich and ornamented interior of the basilica during the period of our project work, we claim that we succeeded to capture the heart of San Marco. Specially the part of the altar is of great importance for us since the main action of all ceremonial performances happened there, e.g. the Ceremony of the bestowal of the bonnet and the sword. Besides, we are able to show the tiles of the floor and we used stone texture for the walls and the columns to reinforce the experience of the user.

Going Deep into the History of Music

Having completed the 3D re-construction of the interior of the basilica, we were able to proceed with digitalizing the history of music in Venice. To begin with, we completed a research portfolio, including musicians and their pieces, orchestra and instruments during different ceremonial performances. We were strongly impressed and interested in the Ceremony of the Bestowal of the Bonnet and the Sword, which was given by Pope Alexander VIII to Doge Francesco Morosini ‘the Peloponnesian’. The presence of both makes the event of great importance during the seventeenth century and possibly intriguing to see by users.

Moreover, the basilica of San Marco was home of some of the greatest composers and musicians of all times. We agreed that it could be useful and interesting for users to learn some historical and cultural facts through our simulation. For this reason, we have constructed not only the Ceremony of the Bestowal of the Bonnet and the Sword, but also another simulation, which gives users the chance to see images of all the composers and musicians who have performed at the basilica of San Marco during the seventeenth century and learn some facts about them by interacting with the 3D model.

Digitalizing the Music at San Marco

To accomplish these two kinds of simulations, we have used various graphics software and 3D plugins. To create a more authentic feeling, we have embedded music into our 3D model, using Gosu plugin for SketchUp. This gives us an opportunity to play the great music of Venice, e.g. Exaudi me Domine by Giovanni Gabrieli, Introit by Giovanni and Andrea Gabrieli, etc. The last two were included in the music of Sunday, which makes them very possibly performed during the Ceremony of the bestowal of the bonnet and the sword. In addition, to simulate this specific event, we rely on a painting done by an anonymous artist in 1690. Therefore, to achieve higher quality of the images of people extracted from the painting, we have used Adobe Photoshop, Adobe Illustrator, and MakeFace plugin for SketchUp. Last but not least, we have embedded recordings of some short historical facts, using the Natural Reader software.

All these technological and design advantages helped us achieve a more interactive 3D model, giving an opportunity to our users to experience the ceremonial atmosphere. Using the 3D simulation, they are able to select a particular simulation they want to see, to choose the music they want to play as well as to walk through the basilica. Moreover, they are able to hear a short explanation about composers and musician from this time period.

A Lesson for the Modern World

To achieve the different levels of details in our simulations, we went through a difficult and long process of finding resources, working with 3D software and digitalizing the data. We have to admit that constructing the 3D model of the basilica and discovering ceremonial performances was much more challenging than expected. We had to continuously change the direction of our research project and redefine our goals. However, we have learned not only new technical skills, but also a lot about some of the greatest musicians of all times. This project helped us to grow culturally, socially and academically and to realize what a big advantage it would be for people to be able to experience the magnificent city of music. Therefore, we hope that the humanities scholars will explore the full potential of using 3D modeling software for historical reconstructions because we need to “study the past if you would define the future” (Confucius).


[1] Frederick Hammond, Performance in San Marco: a picture and two puzzles

[2] Eleanor Selfridge-Field, Bassano and the Orchestra of St Mark’s, Published by: Oxford University Press

[3] Eleanor Selfridge-Field, Venetian Instrumental Music From Gabrieli to Vivaldi

[4] A ~ Tuscan Column Column by Fine House , retrieved May, 2014, from https://3dwarehouse.sketchup.com/model.html?id=7c8e56f49fbf49a2e79d181dec16bca

[5] The Architecture of San Marco, retrieved February, 2014, from http://venice11.umwblogs.org/the-architecture-of-san-marco-from-832-to-1204/

[6] The Floor of the Basilica of San Marco, Venice, retrieved April, 2014, from http://cozzolani.com/newsletter/images/sanmarcofloorfull.jpg

[7] Image of Claudio Monteverdi. Retrieved May, 2014, from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Primeiro_retrato_de_Monteverdi.jpg

[8] Image of Giovanni Legrenzi. Retrieved May, 2014, from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Legrenzi.jpg

[9] Image of Giovanni Gabriele. Retrieved May, 2014, from http://www.newworldencyclopedia.org/entry/File:Giovanni_Gabrieli.jpg

[10] Image of Giovanni Bassano. Retrieved May, 2014, from http://es.paperblog.com/giovanni-bassano-biografia-compositor-interprete-del-renacimiento-195153/

[11] Image of Procession in St. Mark’s Square on Palm Sunday. Retrieved May, 2014, from http://www.sscm-jscm.org/v8/no1/kurtzman/fig19.html

[12] Introit (Music). Retrieved April, 2014, from http://mp3vip.org/