The Italian Almanac

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Fresco in the Palazzo Medici-Riccardi, by Luca Giordano

Art Experience

A stunning gallery frescoed by Baroque master Luca Giordano has been transformed into a life-sized laboratory for an experiment in which visitors will play the role of guinea pigs. The ceiling painting by Giordano in Florence's Palazzo Medici Riccardi is the springboard for the experiment, in which scientists will monitor the emotional and physical reactions of participants to an all-enveloping art experience.

A mirror image of the fresco, which shows the Medici family in mythological guise, covers the floor, allowing visitors direct 'contact' with the painting, while various sections of the work are projected along the walls. A music and light installation, designed to complement and enhance the different visual stages of the gallery, complete the experience.

But the truly unusual aspect of the exhibition will be its role in allowing scientists to study the human response to art. Visitors arriving at the event will be asked whether they want to participate in the experiment. Those that agree will provide feedback in two ways. Firstly, their intellectual response to the experience will be catalogued. They will be interviewed and given a chance to take part in a very brief, creative writing workshop drawing on Giordano's fresco to produce their own short narrative. The second aspect will assess their emotional reaction to the experience by analyzing their physical responses.

Medical equipment fitted before entering the gallery will monitor their heart rate, breathing, oxygen consumption, blood pressure and brain responses to the experience. Scientists hope this will provide them with a detailed map of the impact of the different images and the associated music as the visitors make their way through the gallery. "The results of the investigation will help us measure how the experience of viewing art induces a response in people," explained the initiative's curator, Perla Gianni.

The fresco is intended to represent key stages of human life, from birth to death, which organizers hope will give it particular resonance with visitors. Completed by Giordano in the 1680s, the different stages are illustrated through various mythological episodes in the context of the four elements, the changing seasons and the different times of day.