Responses by Marie-Pierre Dion, library conservator, consultant and client, Château de Chantilly.
Background: Created between 1412 and 1416, the Très Riches Heures de Duc de Berry is a book of hours that features exceptional works of art as manuscript illuminations. Since its acquisition by the Henri d’Orléans, the Duke of Aumale, in 1856, the book has become an iconic example of medieval European art. But like all bound manuscripts, the Très Riches Heures cannot be presented in its entirety: only two pages can be seen simultaneously. Nor can the Très Riches Heures be permanently exhibited for conservation reasons as regulations limit the manuscript’s exhibition time to three months every five years. As part of the renovation of the library of the Château de Chantilly, where the manuscript is kept, we took the opportunity to create mediation and presentation tools that equaled the work of art’s mastery. As part of a vast program that included a digital photography campaign, a digital leaflet and interactive installation by experiential interactive design studio Mosquito at the Château, this website by Mosquito and digital design studio 23FORWARD puts a multilingual version of the Très Riches Heures installation on the web.
Design core: The site features a sober design with blacked-out comments that help highlight the masterpiece’s artwork. A fluid navigation system ensures that the user does not have to wait as 420 high-definition images load at about 11 MB per page and 22 MB per double page. The application makes the structure of the book, the content of the texts and the meaning of the images understandable thanks to bookmarks and captions with a clear, discreet focus. Lastly, the site facilitates interactions for users and enables them the possibility of writing messages in the menu.
Challenges: We had to create a perfectly responsive website to house the unprecedented image quality of the Très Riches Heures’s artwork that would enable the public to discover unknown details. The images, made with a camera and not a scanner for conservation reasons, are more than 10,000-pixels-wide each. What’s more, we had to make sure that the site was easy to understand technically—with no help page needed—and that it would present scholarly content in an easily digestible format to reach the broadest possible audience. Also, the narrowness of the smartphone screen made it necessary to double the bottom navigation line with a menu on the site’s mobile version.
Specific project demands: We had to ensure that the high-quality images were protected under the copyright of the partner photographic agency, so no downloading of images is possible. We plan to unveil low-definition or partial images for users to share on social media.
Navigation structure: The approach to the navigation structure was to make the site feel like a natural browsing experience as if users were flipping through the actual manuscript. We did so by designing a progressive discovery of the book’s details throughout the pages.
The fidelity of Très Riches Heures is always shown in its entirety. We implemented a page-mode navigation on a vertical smartphone with a captioned, illustrated label showing two pages opposite each other. There are also page layout games that require this view. On a horizontal screen, we feature a double-page navigation with commentary labels.