The Medieval Cosmos – Visualising Grosseteste’s Universe

The Being Human Festival was the occasion for the first public showing of our visualisation of the medieval cosmos. Currently in a 2D format, a 3D version is under development. The visualisation is available here:

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Begun in Durham, the visualisation is the creation of Nick Holliman at the University of York, where he is head of interactive media. Early sections of the modelling for the spheres were deigned by Adam Harries, during the course of a summer placement and a scholarship from the Durham Institute of Advanced Computing, held in the Department of History. The script was put together by Giles, with help from Paul Ging, then of the Media and Communications office, with suggestions from team members, especially Brian. The voiceover was provided by Sir Thomas Allen – we had great fun recording the script and exploring the project with him.

The visualisation is designed around the treatise on light, and around the calculations Richard Bower made for the passage of lux and then lumens the creation of the the Aristotelian spheres. The thickness of the shells delimiting the spheres was the subject of some discussion, the visual representation the best way to show the distinctiveness of each sphere. The visualisation takes us through the creation of the universe, the perfected spheres and then those below the moon. Context for Grosseteste’s scientific interests form the introduction and concluding sections. As well as the visualised sequences we were able to use 3D photography for medieval manuscripts within the Durham Cathedral collections, in collaboration with the Dean and Chapter, and of architectural features in the Cathedral and Castle. Nick’s 3D photography was itself a fascinating way to approach the medieval manuscripts: with the glasses on it was quite an experience to see the curl and contour of the vellum. As we develop the film further, it will include sections from the other treatises, and invoke the further parts of Grosseteste’s amazing imagination.

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