New app brings 18th century sculpted nativity scene back to life

Braun’s nativity scene in the Bethlehem Forest, photo: ČTK / David Taneček

Braun’s Nativity Scene is an impressive sculptural art work located near the Kuks Baroque complex in east Bohemia. Thanks to a new augmented reality application, which can be downloaded for free, visitors can now admire the work of art as it looked at the time of its creation.

Braun’s nativity scene in the Bethlehem Forest,  photo: Marta Guzmán

What is known as the Bethlehem Forest, a natural park with a gallery of Baroque sculptures depicting Biblical scenes, was made by the famous artist Matthias Bernard Braun in the first half of the 18th century. He carved them directly into the sandstone rocks in the forest near the Kuks Baroque complex.

Over the centuries, the artwork has gradually deteriorated due to weather conditions and vandalism and today visitors can only see a fraction of what it looked like when it was created.

An augmented reality app, created by the company More.Is.More now enables visitors to see the work of art in its original form.

Braun’s nativity scene in the Bethlehem Forest,  photo: ČTK / David Taneček

George Pinkava of More.Is.More outlines the process of re-creating the digital model of the nativity scene.

“As far as capturing the data, we digitised the location using laser scanning and photogrammetry.

“We worked closely with a man called Leoš Pryšinger who has devoted his life to analysing the nativity scene and all its intricate details.

“He even made a lovely wooden carving of what it originally would have looked look like, which we used as a reference to rebuild our digital model.”

Some of the original free-standing statues have been moved away to escape further deterioration, but you can still see them thanks to the app.

Leoš Pryšinger,  photo: Czech TV

“For instance, there was an angel at the nativity scene, which has been moved to the garden of the Kuks Hospital. So we used the scan of the leftover and we have put it back where he belonged.”

Unlike the current statues, which have the same colour as the sandstone bedrock, the digital model is full of colours:

“Mr Pryšinger worked closely with experts to study the colours, because there are actually leftover traces of the colours in the stone.

“They painstakingly went through all the rocks and stones to find leftover traces of the chemicals of the colour.

“We used that information to paint our 3D model as it would have looked originally.”

Braun’s nativity scene in the Bethlehem Forest,  photo: ČTK / David Taneček

George Pinkava says that unlike the company’s previous projects, Braun’s nativity scene is the first one using location-based augmented reality, which really invites people to visit the place in person:

“In the coming weeks there will be a physical marker that we’ll put down in the forest. Through this marker you will be able to actually see the Nativity Scene on top of the remains.

“You will be able to look through your phone back in time and actually walk around and through it, which is the premise of what augmented reality should really offer.”

More.Is.More have already created digital tourist platforms for several sites in the Hradec Králové region, including the Kuks Hospital. In the near future, they are also planning to release and augmented reality app for the Broumov Monastery and its church.