The virtual reconstruction of Ename in 1665 is not only visualisation and synthesis of all the research and sources we have about this Flemish village, but it allows also to experience rural Flanders in the 17th century. The contrast between the houses and material culture of the village and the wealth and opulence of the abbey, that owns and dominates the village, becomes obvious when walking through this virtual world that has been constructed based upon many historical documents such as the writings of abbot de Loose and the detailed map of the village he commissioned to surveyor Jan Bale (of which copies are preserved at House Beaucarne in Ename and the Library of the University of Ghent).
In this way, we are creating a Time Machine experience that allows us to visit a world that we only know through the many splendid paintings and drawings of the 17th century of for example the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam. This vast collection of 17th-century iconography and objects – called Rijksstudio – is online, provides professional and high-resolution images, can be used without restriction and can be searched in many ways. The Rijksstudio is our most important source of information on the use and looks of objects, landscape, atmosphere and way of life. It allows us to create a believable virtual world that represents the 17th century in the very best way we can today. In other words, this is the closest we can get today to a Time Machine.
Take for example the above views on the village centre and its pond with a tree, based upon the map of Jan Bale, published in 1661.
The map shows the parcels, the houses and the pond but does not contain any information on the look and feel of this village centre, the houses, the vegetation, the enclosures of the parcels, the tree with a bench where a shepherd could rest or where the daily gossip is passed on. This is where the images from the Rijksmuseum come in, showing daily life in rural villages in Flanders and the Netherlands.
When making virtual reconstructions that have the ambition to provide a TimeMachine experience, we need to be able to capture the material culture of that period and be aware that only a fraction of that material culture is preserved today in museums. When visiting, for example, the local Swan Inn, we want to have a good part of the objects around that are typical for a rural inn (probably even a brothel) of that time. The Rijksstudio provides us with many views on social life and on the objects and their use. For example, backgammon was a popular game, played with passion, holding the attention of the onlookers.
Not only does the Rijksstudio provides a high-resolution image of a backgammon playboard, but the image can also be used as a texture for the 3D object. Other images show the setting and the other objects around.
Everybody was going to the pub. Everybody was drinking beer, men, women and children, enjoying the presence of the local community and playing drinking games by circulating the pass glass of the pub. These pass glasses and drinking games are well documented by paintings and drawings in the online Rijksstudio archive and are even performed today.
The wine was served in a pewter pitcher, the typical square wine bottles were cooled by water from the well. This pitcher can be seen in many paintings by Jan Steen, one of the most prominent Dutch painters of the 17th century, hence it is called the “Jan Steen pitcher”. The glasses next to the pitcher are on display in the local Ename museum.
One of the nice historical features of that period, that is fully documented by the paintings and drawings of the Rijksmuseum, is the presence of starling pots. Ceramic pots, suited as starling nests, were hanging around the windows, to take the young starlings as delicacies (prepared as soup or pastries).
The Eename 1665 TimeMachine experience is available in the local Ename museum for guided groups and individual visitors since the end of 2019 (we developed an early prototype with natural interaction in 2016). This interactive application is based upon games technology and has an extensive weather system and a full day/night cycle.