The Augsburg Display Cabinet—the Getty Museum’s 17th-century “cabinet of curiosities” on display starting tomorrow in our New Galleries for Medieval and Renaissance Sculpture and Decorative Arts—is both a work of art and an early prototype of museums. With dozens of compartments to store collectibles, this remarkable object unfolds in myriad ways to reveal surprising treats for the eye.

Like a museum, it was used to store, organize, and display a prized collection of works of art and natural objects. By opening its many doors and drawers, the original owner could embark on a labyrinth-like journey, admiring tiny oil paintings, wood carvings, and precious inlaid materials decorating its surfaces—much like the voyage of exploration and discovery experienced in a museum visit.

In its time, the cabinet offered innovation and trompe-l’oeil allure not unlike the cutting-edge technology—augmented reality (AR)—that we’re using today to allow modern-day viewers to explore this intricate object without actually touching it.

To simulate the cabinet, our AR feature at consists of a Web page that displays a 3-D, miniaturized model overlaid on a live video feed from the viewer’s webcam. The user feels a sense of engagement by seeing himself or herself in the live video feed, and by controlling the cabinet’s movement—opening, spinning, and tilting it like its original owner could.

The Augsburg Display Cabinet AR feature is intended to generate excitement for what museums are all about: discovery and wonder. In the gallery viewers can’t touch the real cabinet. With augmented reality, barriers to the imagination fall away.