Using digital technologies to preserve the University of Oxford’s musical instruments and increase the accessibility of these unique object collections

About the research project

The University of Oxford’s museum collections contain some of the most rare and renowned historical musical instruments from the Renaissance period. These include the violins of Antonio Stradivari in the Ashmolean Museum’s Hill Collection and the 16th-century Basset Recorder of the Bassano family in the Bate Collection, to name a few.

Using state-of-the-art photogrammetry techniques, this project is developing high-resolution and fully manipulable digital models of these musical instruments.

This digitisation process forms a vital part of the preservation of these fragile objects, while also opening up new possibilities for researching and engaging with Oxford’s historic musical instrument collections.

This project advances discussions within the digital humanities and museum studies on the potential benefits (and limitations) of digital objects as conceptual tools for virtual museology, and as technologies for preserving, accessing and displaying tangible and intangible cultural heritage, particularly in relation to the post-COVID museum.

Digital imaging technologies, such as 3D scanning/printing, photogrammetry and AR/VR, offer new ways of seeing, experiencing and interacting with the material culture of music histories.

Renaissance musical instrument with carved tuning head
Renaissance musical instrument carved tuning head detail

Cittern (3D model), c.1570, attributed to Girolamo Virchi (c.1532–after 1574), Italy, Ashmolean Museum, University of Oxford

Digitisation can also render cultural heritage collections more accessible. As such, the resultant 3D models are being incorporated into the first virtual museum collection of interactive and remotely accessible musical instrument models that can be viewed from any angle in minute detail and accessed online.

This digital collection of musical instruments promises to become a vital resource for future heritage conservation, access and use.

Project funders

British Academy

John Fell Fund, University of Oxford

Project start


Project team

Dr Emanuela Vai (Principal Investigator), Head of Research, Worcester College and Bate Collection of Musical Instruments, University of Oxford

Mr Colin Harrison
Senior Curator, Western Art Collection, Ashmolean Museum, University of Oxford

Research connections & project partners

This project involves collaboration with a number of organisations, individual scholars and graduate students, including but not limited to:


Website: Renaissance Musical Instruments

Twitter: @RenMusInstr