By Nicole Zibelman

In a collaborative and immersive experience, 17th century painting “Triumph of Isabella” was brought to life for the first time in the United States at The Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center Sunday afternoon.   

The painting has previously only been seen at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London, The Prado Museum in Madrid and the Royal Museums of Fine Arts in Brussels.     

“Triumph of Isabella” is one of eight paintings in a series by Denis van Alsloot.   The painting depicts the annual Ommegang parade in Brussels on May 31, 1615. This year, in particular, the parade was significant because Archduchess Isabella of the Spanish Netherlands named herself Queen of Ommegang after she historically shot down a popinjay with a crossbow on her first attempt, event curator Drew Barker said.  

“The reason this painting is significant to anyone in performance is that it’s the first actual depiction of live performance,” Director of University of Maryland’s School of Theatre, Dance, and Performance Studies Leigh Wilson Smiley said.  

The integration of art, history and technology captivated spectators who were enclosed in a room with four video screens as walls.  The animation of the painting on top of the still photo scan created a visual masterpiece, and the accompanying European parade music made participants feel as though they were eyewitnesses of the 1615 Ommegang parade.  

“We got the digitization and then we worked on cutting it out and animating it in order to bring visual art into a more performative experience and make people’s heart beat a little bit faster,” Smiley said.

The visual presentation was followed by an interactive reenactment of a conventional European street performance directed by Ph.D. students.  Audience members ranged from young children to older folk.

Actors and dancers wore elaborate costumes designed by University of Maryland design students.  Last year in a class solely built around designing these costumes, students conducted extensive research to ensure the costumes were made from the same materials that would have been used 500 years ago.

The street performance featured actors as well as onlookers who were pulled into the performance.  Spectators also had a chance to learn a traditional dance taught by the student dance ensemble.

“It’s the first time I’ve ever seen a play like that where you don’t actually sit down in a theatre and you get to move around,” Rae Wee, a junior journalism major, said.  

Xiaoran Liu, a junior finance major, shared this awe.  “This is the first time I’ve ever experienced something like this,” she said.  

At the conclusion of this year-in-the-making project, Smiley said she hopes to have brought students to “an appreciation and understanding of how a lot of what we do today was done 400 years ago, 500 years ago, and throughout time.”

Moving forward, the International Program for Creative Collaboration & Research in partnership with the School of Theatre, Dance, and Performance Studies hope to bring the animated “Triumph of Isabella” display back to the Victoria and Albert Museum in London and to additional museums in Brussels, Smiley said. 

Featured Photo Credit: Spectators learning the significance of “Triumph of Isabella.” (Nicole Zibelman/ Bloc Writer)

Nicole Zibelman is a sophomore Multiplatform journalism major and can be reached at

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