Digital review | Virtual gallery, Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge - Museums Association

Digital review | Virtual gallery, Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge

Some easily fixed problems and this gallery experience could be top notch
Livi Adu
On a virtual journey to Gallery 6 at the Fitzwilliam Museum, visitors can see Vittore Crivelli’s Virgin and Child triptych

Here, I share my experience exploring two of the Fitzwilliam Museum’s virtual galleries, Gallery 3 and Gallery 6, both of which were created using the build software Sketchup (see ratings box) and uploaded to the 3D assets website Sketchfab.

These digital re-creations aim to help the museum reach a wider audience and are accessible via its website. There are virtual versions of nearly all the real gallery spaces and some have the bonus of 3D scans of works too. The most accessible way to interact with these is by clicking through into each gallery section, but it would have been helpful to have clear instructions how best to navigate the spaces.

The virtual re-creation of Gallery 3, titled Fitz Favourites, impressed me on my first look. Sketchup’s user-friendly interface and realistic shadows and textures add visual depth to the virtual experience of being in the museum itself. However, the absence of interpretation with the artwork reduces the level of engagement possible.

A digital render of the side of an elaborate stone sarcophagus depicting lots of human figures doing things in delicately carved drapery
The addition of a 3D photogrammetry sarcophagus is welcome

Navigating the gallery on a laptop proved challenging and though you can get temptingly close to the artwork, you can’t zoom in.

Gallery 6 focuses on works made in early Renaissance Italy. I appreciated the digital labels, which state the title, artist and date, but there isn’t any lengthier interpretation or links to find out more.


The 3D photogrammetry of a marble sarcophagus was an amazing addition to the space, but the empty display cases in the centre of the gallery and the non-functional links to the next gallery disrupted the flow and left me feeling disoriented.

I find the software, Sketchup, user-friendly and the replica creation is good. However, when I’ve used it as an e-curator, I have found it is vital to be conscious of how you build your gallery – it is important to focus on the user experience, as there is a risk of focusing on details, adding benches or cabinets for the aesthetic, but by doing so you create a high polygon count that can result in lags.

To ensure inclusivity, the museum should add digital interpretation as well as comprehensive alt text – there is no alt text at the moment. This is essential, but you do need the paid-for pro versions of Sketchup and Sketchfab.

While these two galleries are successfully recreated to a basic digital level, the museum has missed opportunities to fully leverage the digital medium in its full array of accessible features. Fuller interpretation panels, working gallery links, alt text and being able to zoom into artworks would be a start.

Livi Adu is a neurodivergent and disabled freelance e-curator, specialising in digital opportunities for inclusive access

Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, build software: Sketchup
Experience ***
The gallery spaces look bare and underwhelming in comparison with the physical museum, but it is very good as a standalone for the rooms.
Accessibility **
This website can be used with accessible technologies but it does not have alt-text descriptions in the meta data. Alt-text options are only available in the pro version.
Intuitiveness ***
As long as you can use vectors this is a really easy software to pick up. I learnt how to use this software in about an hour.
Affordability ***
This was made with Pro Sketchup, which costs £245 a year and a further $180 for Sketch Fab but, there is a free version which is great for starting out.
Overall ***
The digital recreations of Fitzwilliam Museum gallery spaces using Sketchup and Sketch Fab showcase the potential of digital innovations. By addressing limitations, enhancing interactivity, and prioritising accessibility, the museum could connect with broader audiences in more transformative ways.

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