Pairing France’s highest-of-high-brow museums with a Japanese technology company behind games like Donkey Kong, Mario Brothers and Zelda might not seem like a natural fit. And some may view the electronic guide as a shop window for Nintendo. But Louvre officials say the museum must change with the times, and try to access as wide a public possible.
Over the years, the Louvre has drawn controversy with some of its innovations, including the glass-pyramid entrance by Chinese-American architect I.M. Pei or its sharing parts of its massive collection with wealthy countries like the United Arab Emirates — which is to open a Louvre affiliate in 2015.
Above all, the console is meant to reach out to the Louvre’s customer base: the museum welcomed 8.9 million visitors last year — more than half of them under age 30, and about two-thirds foreign.
The guides, for now available in seven languages, cost €5 ($6.50) on top of the museum’s €10 ($13) standard admission price. And coming soon: French sign language.
Press a button, and the viewer virtually floats over, say, statues by Michelangelo, or zooms up close on the tiny cracks in the face of the Mona Lisa — all but impossible to see from behind a crowded rope line.
The console comes in handy peering high up at Veronese’s 60-square-meter (645-square-foot) painting “The Wedding at Cana,” across from the Mona Lisa. Details of the giant tableau easily seen on screen can be checked against the real thing.
The biggest benefit may be helping art lovers get around: Visitors see their location, which blinks inside a diagram of exhibit rooms on one of the console’s two screens. A menu allows for a specific search for one of 50 of the museum’s most popular works and can plot a path to get there. Another feature is a “masterpieces” walk.
Because of the Louvre’s thick walls, and because some of its exhibit spaces are underground, 3G mobile phone networks don’t reach everywhere inside. The positioning system relies on beacons posted around the museum.
Nintendo’s director-general for France, Stephan Bole, insisted the console isn’t aimed as a substitute for a live, in-person visit: Virtual isn’t the same thing as seeing the works themselves.
“The 3DS is to assist a visit that remains live — you have to see the paintings to appreciate them,” he said by phone. “We want to complement the real live visit.”