National Gallery creates its first show designed for mobile phones

People will be able to explore a 16th-century masterpiece by the Dutch painter Jan Gossaert

The National Gallery is to offer its first exhibition designed for mobile phones, allowing people to experience in incredible detail a 16th-century Dutch masterpiece telling the story of the birth of Jesus.

Jan Gossaert’s The Adoration of the Kings was at the centre of an immersive exhibition at the London gallery that opened last December but was forced to close after a week because of the Covid lockdown.

Hardly anyone got to see it, which is one reason why it has been reinvented as the first National Gallery experience aimed at mobile phone users.

The exhibition and the online version were created as part of the gallery’s innovation programme. Emma McFarland, who leads the programme, said the mobile experience was an experiment.

An image showing how smartphone users will be able to examine the painting
An image showing how smartphone users will be able to examine the painting. Photograph: © The National Gallery, London

“Our aim through the innovation programme is to create enjoyable, meaningful experiences which engage new and more diverse audiences with the collection in different ways, placing our visitors at the heart of the design process.”

The painting is traditionally more of a Christmas experience than an Easter one, showing kings, courtiers, shepherds, animals and angels all arriving to worship the infant Christ who sits on his mother’s lap in a decaying, ruined palace.

The mobile experience will allow people to zoom in on the details. It will include six poems in the voice of Balthasar, the black king pictured to the left of Mary, with his gift of myrrh and wearing a lynx-fur-lined red robe and fabulous boots with leather so fine you can see his toes.

The poems have been written and voiced by the poet Theresa Lola, a former young people’s laureate for London.

As with the original exhibition the aim, said the gallery, was to bring together sound, images, poetry and interaction “to explore the themes of rupture, transformation and renewal” through the perspective of Balthasar.

The painting is one of the great works of the northern renaissance made by Gossaert between about 1510 and 1515. It has been in the gallery’s collection since 1911, sold by the widow of the ninth earl of Carlisle for less than its market value. It remains one of the gallery’s most popular Christmas cards.

The immersive exhibition, Sensing the Unseen: Step into Gossaert’s Adoration, which had to close in December, has been rescheduled to run from 17 May to 13 June.

The mobile edition goes live on the National Gallery’s website on Friday.


Mark Brown Arts correspondent

The GuardianTramp

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