A Day in the Life of John Calvin

The exhibition in short

The intention

Bridge the 500 years that separate us from John Calvin

Surpass the overly simplistic representations of the Reformer

Overcome the difficulty of a lack of objects and portraits

The content

Present a reconstruction of an ideal day in John Calvin’s life

Discover eight key moments of his day

See Calvin praying, counselling, teaching and debating

Hear him speak (in words written or pronounced by him)

The vision

A more finely shaded Calvin: touching and fearsome, faithful and merciless

A city reconstituted in realistic period detail

A search for realistic iconography

The agenda

From 4 am (when everyone got up) to 9 pm, via several landmarks of Reformed Geneva (Saint-Pierre Cathedral, the Consistory, the prison, a private house)

The period

Life is harsh, frequently interrupted by epidemics, without comfort, full of physical and moral pain, under constant threat of attack from enemies nearby

The creators

The exhibition was designed by the museum designers of Etat des Lieux based on an original concept by Olivier Fatio and Isabelle Graesslé

The 3D films were produced by MIRAlab, a research laboratory at the University of Geneva directed by Prof. Nadia Magnenat-Thalmann

The MiR

The International Museum of the Reformation, which opened in April 2005 and was awarded the Council of Europe Museum Prize in 2007, presents the history of the Reformation initiated by John Calvin in a lively and engaging manner. With the help of numerous period documents and a rich iconography, the Museum offers a detailed account of the Reformation from its origins to the present. The International Museum of the Reformation is located at the heart of Geneva’s old town, in a magnificent 18th-century patrician townhouse, Maison Mallet, which stands on the very spot where the Reformation was voted in 1536. Occupying 350 m2 of a superb classical-era apartment, the Museum espouses the most modern technologies. The Museum is also connected to the archaeological site under Saint-Pierre Cathedral. Together with the Cathedral towers, these two museums make up “Espace Saint-Pierre”, Geneva’s latest cultural and tourist attraction.

From reality to virtual reality

The virtual reality film sequences portraying Calvin at different times of the day were created by MIRALab Laboratory, at the University of Geneva. These scenes represent various aspects of Calvin’s daily life: we first see him at dawn, for instance, as he says his morning prayers; later we witness an argument with Madame Favre, a contemporary of his who contested his authority.

This project was carried out under the leadership of Prof. Nadia Magnenat-Thalmann by an interdisciplinary team comprising the 3D designers Marlène Arévalo and Nedjma Cadi, as well as a number of scientists. Artists from several different backgrounds also contributed to this project.

The production of the short films involved several different steps, namely:

1) artistic choices and interpretation of existing images of Calvin

MIRALab’s designers began by studying engravings, images and textual descriptions of Calvin. Based on these documents, they made a some artistic choices and  tried to answer the following questions: what should Calvin look like? How is he perceived in the 21st century? How could this be translated into three dimensions?

We decided to represent him in the style of an old engraving, while bringing him alive. In a sense, we created an animated engraving, coded in 3D and suitable for today’s world. Our Calvin is not the 16th-century Calvin, and but it is still unmistakeably him. He is a virtual work of art.

2) Creating a 3D model of Calvin:

Based on these engravings, we drafted several versions of Calvin’s head and body. The International Museum of the Reformation chose the version they thought was closest to the known image of Calvin.

3) Creating Calvin’s clothing:

After modelling the head and body, we defined and modelled the clothes and accessories. We drew patterns of the clothes in two dimensions, then we placed them on the body, sewed them virtually, and animated them to follow Calvin’s movements. The simulations are based on the real physical properties of the cloth.

4) Simulation of facial expressions, speech and motion:

Facial expression and speech movements were animated with the help of motion capture technology. We recorded the facial expressions and physical movements of live actors and transposed them onto the virtual Calvin. Since period documents provide no information on body dynamics and expressions, these animated sequences required a large degree of interpretation and interdisciplinary cooperation involving historians, actors, and theologians.

Extra media