Art meets virtual reality at Burghley

History meets cutting edge virtual reality technology at England’s greatest Elizabethan house this summer, bringing to life the story of one of Europe’s most celebrated female painters of the 17th century.

Amongst the most in-demand artists of her time, Italian Baroque painter Artemisia Gentileschi (1593–1653) is also regarded as someone who not only broke, but shattered, the ‘glass ceiling’ of the male-dominated art world 400 years ago.

Perhaps little known by many, her tale is one of rape survival and revenge, resulting in paintings of women of courage and strength, and in many ways she became a forerunner of today’s ‘#MeToo movement’.

Now best known for her stirring paintings of powerful women, her story is told in a new, award-winning VR experience, (Hi)Story of a Painting: The Light in the Shadow, which is set to be the star attraction at Lincolnshire’s Burghley House this summer.

Narrated by Cerys Matthews, the immersive 14-minute storytelling VR experience – delivered through individual headsets – will transport visitors back in time, revealing the fascinating story of this baroque artist, her resistance to patriarchy and determination in the face of adversity.

Fittingly, Burghley – on the edge of the Georgian stone town of Stamford – is home to one of Artemisia Gentileschi’s iconic artworks, Susanna and the Elders, which is one of the jewels in the House’s extensive collection of paintings.

It was painted for an Italian noble, Cardinal Ludovico Ludovisi, in 1622 and passed down through his family until its purchase by Brownlow, 9th Earl of Exeter (1725-1793), and brought back to his Burghley home.

And while rarely, if ever, on display at Burghley because it is normally on loan to galleries and at major exhibitions worldwide, the painting will make a special appearance for a limited time at the House this summer, with visitors able to see the original painting in the Heaven Room for the duration of the of the VR exhibition.

Meanwhile, the new experience will offer visitors a chance to discover more about this pioneering artist. The film focuses on her ‘Self Portrait as St. Catherine of Alexandria’, now on display at the National Gallery, London, which portrays a Christian saint who was martyred and tortured in the 4th century. It reflected the suffering that the artist herself faced. Raped at 17 by her painting tutor, she endured a shocking seven-month trial in which she was tortured to ‘prove’ she was telling the truth. Following the trial, she moved to Florence where she painted the self-portrait.

Now visitors to Burghley will be able to join her in 17th century Florence in the new VR experience – from UK-based production company Fat Red Bird – fresh from the animated experience winning the Special Jury Recognition for Immersive Storytelling award in the industry’s SXSW XR Experience competition, held in Austin, Texas during March.

From 23 July until 10 August, visitors will be able to book the VR experience, with tickets costing £10 per person. A general House admissions ticket is not required unless visitors wish to view the original Susanna and the Elders painting temporarily on display in the House.

The story of Artemisia Gentileschi and her role as feminine icon complements Burghley’s 2022 Treasury Exhibition, TheCollections of Two Countesses. Offering a different perspective on Burghley’s history, it provides an insight into Anne Cavendish (1649-1703) and Hannah-Sophia Chambers (1702-1765), two highly independent, spirited women with a passion for collectingwho left a legacy of treasures for future generations to admire. The Treasury Exhibition is included in a House and Garden ticket, which costs £20 per adult and £9 per child.

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The virtual reality experience ‘The Light in the Shadow’, featuring the life and work of Artemisia Gentileschi, will run in the Asham Room at Burghley House from 23rd July to 31st August (excluding Fridays). Tickets are £10 per person, available to book online at or purchase on the day.