Using AI to Create a Well-Rounded Understanding of Art: A Conversation with Mikhail Piotrovsky

The Hermitage Museum, in Saint Petersburg, Russia, is one of the world’s largest and most prestigious museums. Founded in 1764 when Empress Catherine the Great purchased a large collection of Western European paintings, It has been open to the public since 1852 and currently its exhibitions contain over 3 million items. Recently, Francesco Rulli, Global CEO of Querlo, spoke with Mikhail Piotrovsky, Director of Hermitage Museum, about the importance of understanding the values of past civilizations, the use of AI in the art world, and the initiatives Hermitage has been taking during the pandemic. 

Professor Piotrovsky, born in Yerevan in the Armanian Soviet Socialist Republic, has been the Director of the Hermitage for 28 years succeeding his father who was Director for 26 years. Following the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, a year after he was appointed Director, Piotrovsky advocated for the opening of the museum to a wider audience. In addition, he is the Dean of Oriental Studies and the Head Chair of Mesology at the University of Saint Petersburg. For more information about him, you can visit his Wikipedia page.

To many, going to a museum to look at art was thought of as therapeutic and a way to step aside from all the troubles that life may bring and just enjoy being in the moment, surrounded by beautiful works. However, as covid struck, museums like the Hermitage had to completely rethink how they were going to deliver this experience to their visitors. The Hermitage created a large online program so that people could still visit the works virtually and the museum has had about 50 million visitors so far. Piotrovsky noted that as everything is falling apart in the pandemic, “we have to fight to keep the cultural relations because this is very important for the future.” Nevertheless, while it is important to think of art as therapeutic, he discussed how it is also necessary for people to understand the deeper, spiritual meanings behind the works.

Along with being CEO of Querlo, Francesco is also the Chief Digital Officer at the Opera Di Santa Maria Del Fiore in Florence and has been working with their team to develop the Michelangelo AI. This application will allow the public to communicate with Michelangelo and help Francesco and the Opera understand what kinds of questions people have about him. When asked about the role of AI in the art world, Piotrovsky discussed how using AI is important, but the next step is to make it more human-like. By this, he means that AI should be prepared to both answer more complicated questions and provide responses that give users new ideas to think about that they normally wouldn’t have thought about asking. 

As it slowly starts their reopening process, the Hermitage has been using AI in several of the exhibitions both to help with crowd control so people aren’t spending too much time standing in one place and to help people learn about the art in a deeper way. Visitors can first visit Hermitage’s website and social media and listen to different types of lectures and stories and then come to the museum and use their phones as guides.

Making the Past Relevant with AI: A Conversation with William Wallace

What is it about Michelangelo’s art that still resonates with us 500 years later? This idea, that one man can have such an extraordinary impact on civilizations, is what keeps William Wallace, Author and Art History Professor at Washington University at St. Louis, thinking, learning, and writing about Michelangelo. Recently, Francesco Rulli, Global CEO of Querlo and Chief Digital Officer at the Opera Del Duomo in Florence, spoke with William about the importance of understanding the values of past civilizations and the use of AI in the world of art.

William attended Columbia University to study the art of Bologna and ended up taking a trip to Italy, in which he discovered Michelangelo and his works. He has been writing about Michelangelo ever since he graduated in 1983. 

The three most important areas that are necessary to understand a civilization are its art, its culture, and its spirituality. William feels that is the reason why we are interested in artists like Michelangelo today and how we, in turn,  are going to be measured 500 years from now. And as William pointed out, “if we don’t promote those things and preserve those things then we have lost more than just what we’ve lost during this covid environment.” 

One of Francesco’s main initiatives as Chief Digital Officer at the Opera del Duomo is the creation of the Michelangelo AI. His team worked to build a chatbot that has the capability to listen and learn from people asking questions to Michelangelo and then engaging experts. The goal is to both engage people who want to learn more about his life and to understand what it is that people want to know. When asked about the role of AI in the art world, William discussed how any way we can recover or learn more about the past and make it relevant to the future is exciting. It is important for people to understand that the past is still relevant to us today and is something on which we build the future, and AI is our future. 

Bringing Michelangelo to Life in a New and Interactive Way: A Conversation with Giovanni Serafini

For art historians who are used to using books and documents to learn more about an artist’s life, it can be difficult to navigate this new digital era. However, these technological advances bring new opportunities to share information with the public in a more interactive manner. Francesco Rulli, Global CEO and Chief Digital and Cognitive Officer of the Opera del Duomo, recently spoke about this topic with Giovanni Serafini, Assistant Registrar at the Opera del Duomo.

Located in Florence Italy, the Opera del Duomo was founded in 1296 to oversee the construction of the Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore and the Giotto Bell Tower. Currently, the main task of the Opera is to conserve these monuments and other works of art by artists such as Michelangelo, Brunelleschi, and Donatello. Francesco has been collaborating with Giovanni and the other members of his team to build the Michelangelo AI, which allows people to ask Michelangelo questions through a chatbot. Additionally, he has been working to identify strategic partnerships with the Opera to further develop the Michelangelo AI and possibly expand the project to include other artists. 

Giovanni, who described himself as feeling like an alien in the digital world, found it surprising to discover that the work he’s doing with the Michelangelo AI is directly in line with the study of the old humanistic world, which is his primary field of study. The main goal of this project is to not only bring MIchaelangelo’s works to life but to also help people understand who he was as a person. However, Giovanni noted, when researching Michelangelo’s life, it’s important that he and his colleagues must respect the fact that they are working with the life of a real person who lived, died, suffered, and loved. 

Giovanni continued by describing the process of responding to the questions that he and his team receive through the chatbot. They have been very lucky because there are many resources documenting Michelangelo’s life that are available for them to use. For example, three biographies were written about him when he was still alive. The first was by Giorgio Vasari in 1550, who was a painter and friend of Michelangelo. The second was a response to Vasari’s biography, which was written by Ascanio Condivi in 1554. And the final biography was also written by Vasari in 1568, a few years after Michelangelo’s death. Additionally, there is a large collection of letters and documents that often reference a book of sonnets written by Michelangelo that was published by his nephew in the beginning of the 17th century. With all these sources, Giovanni and his team must gather all the relevant information to recreate the environment in which Michelangelo worked and lived in. They look forward to this project and using AI to help make art and artists more accessible to more people.

Entertaining, Inspiring, and Encouraging People with Michelangelo AI: A Conversation with Rita Filardi

Why is it important to Michelangelo’s thoughts and beliefs to life? What’s the process of answering questions received through Michelangelo AI? What can AI provide for an organization like Opera del Duomo in the future? And finally, which other artists have contributed to the monuments supervised by the Opera? These questions were discussed in an interview between Francesco Rulli, Global CEO of Querlo, and Rita Filardi, Museum and Collections Manager at the Opera del Duomo. 

The Opera del Duomo is a monumental complex located in Florence, Italy and holds and protects many of the original works created for the Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore. These works include the Brunelleschi Dome, the ancient Santa Reparata Basilica, the Giotto Bell Tower, the Baptistry, among others. The artists that have contributed to these monuments include  Michelangelo, Giotto, Brunelleschi, Donatello and more. Recently, Francesco has taken on the role of Chief Digital and Cognitive Officer of the Opera del Duomo. He has been working alongside Rita and her team to develop the Michelangelo AI. 

Rita began by discussing the importance of AI for Michelangelo’s legacy and how it can help people around the world who want to learn more about the artist’s life. In the post-COVID era especially, it is important to find new ways to entertain, inspire, and encourage people to learn more about art and culture. Francesco agreed and added that the goal of Michelangelo AI is to provide people with access to information about his life and the opportunity to ask questions of their own.

Thinking about what AI could provide for the Opera, Rita believes it will be a very effective system for people all around the world and hopefully encourage them to visit. 

Michelangelo AI and its Application in the Worlds of Arts and Culture: A Conversation with Monica Serrano Segui

“Artificial Intelligence and [direct] contact with the works of art shouldn’t replace one another but they are meant to run parallel and simultaneously,” said Monica Serrano Segui, Art Historian at the Opera di Santa Maria del Fiore, in her conversation with Francesco Rulli, Global CEO of Querlo. In the interview, Monica discussed the applications of Artificial Intelligence in the worlds of art and culture, as well as the questions she has received through the Michelangelo AI.

The Opera di Santa Maria del Fiore, located in Florence, Italy, was founded in 1296 by the Republic of Florence to oversee the construction of the new Cathedral. In 1436, the Cathedral was finally finished with the completion of Brunelleschi’s Dome, and the primary task of the Opera was to conserve the monuments. The Museum was established in 1891 to preserve works not housed inside the Cathedral.

When asked about the applications of AI in the worlds of art and culture, Monica stated that AI allows people to explore aspects of works “in a more light hearted way.” With Michelangelo, people can become familiar with the many different facets of his life that aren’t solely related to his art. AI allows us to reconstruct his life, to understand who he was as a person. Additionally, Monica noted, AI makes it possible for this information to be spread across the world, which is extremely relevant in current times since COVID-19 has prevented people from physically visiting the Opera. 

Monica proceeded to share a few questions received through AI directed towards Michelangelo. These questions include “Were you a lonely person?”, “How was your salary?”, “Do you like the fact that many of your works are in museums?” and “Did you believe in God?” Not only does AI allow people to learn more about Michaelangelo and the different aspects of his life, but it also helps Monica and her team better understand the current human curiosity. Monica noted that this project both helps art lovers be in touch with art in a new and different way and also has the potential to attract those who are not normally interested in art because of how accessible this information has become. 

This project has allowed Monica, her team, and people all around the world to gain a better understanding of the different historical and social aspects of Michelangelo’s life. Monica ends the interview by noting that the better you understand the world he lived in, the better you understand his art.

To learn more about Michelangelo AI, you can reach Francesco Rulli or Monica Serrano Segui through LinkedIN.

The Hope-Filled Re-Opening of the Opera di Santa Maria del Fiore: A Conversation with Monsignor Timothy Verdon

The Opera di Santa Maria del Fiore, located in Florance, Italy, is a 700-year-old complex that holds some of Italy’s most beautiful and profound art, architecture, and sculptures. The museum complex lives off of the revenue they typically receive from the 2.25 million tourists that visit each year, however, since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Opera has been struggling to find ways to support their facilities and employees. 

Monsignor Timothy Verdon is the current director of the Opera de Santa Maria del Fiore Museum, and he, along with his team, has been working with Francesco Rulli at Querlo to build Artificial Intelligence solutions in order to reach a broader audience and support the Opera. 

Recently, Monsignor Timothy Verdon and Francesco Rulli engaged in a conversation about the Opera’s more recent experiences as the world begins to transition into the post-COVID era. The Opera recently became the first monumental complex and museum to re-open after the lockdown was announced. Mr. Verdon explained that the museum decided to open early because they “believed that people need a strong sign of hope, a signal that things can return” back to a sense of normalcy. In the days following the opening, the Opera received more than 25,000 reservations by people who wanted to visit the museum. Mr. Verdon said that the influx of reservations was a sign that, “people are really looking for a way to return to normalcy and rediscover beauty.” This re-opening was excitingly optimistic and put the Opera di Santa Maria del Fiore back in a position where they felt confident they could keep their doors open. 

Additionally, the new AI systems made through the partnership between the Opera and Querlo are allowing more and more people who aren’t able to physically visit the museum complex to experience the art, spirituality, and the rich culture of Florance that the Opera has to offer. Monsignor Timothy Verdon noted that “the web is becoming one of the main forms in which [the Opera] propose[s] [themselves] to the world.” 

The chatbot that Querlo and the Opera di Santa Maria del Fiore are working on in collaboration allows a unique opportunity for an exchange of ideas. People are able to ask questions to “former Italian artists”, such as Michaelangelo, and the museum is able to learn what information people are most curious about. This is one of many examples in which AI opens up a real platform for cultural exchange and knowledge.