On February 1, Google unveiled Art Project, a virtual tour of 17 art museums around the world using Google’s Street View technology. But the most exciting thing about this project is the use of ‘gigapixel’ resolution images that allow you to zoom right in to a painting so you can view it in intimate detail. If you love the buttery creaminess of oils, then you will love the zoom feature which reveals every stroke of the brush, the rich luxuriant texture of the paint and the glorious symphony of colour.
I have just wiled away the better part of my Sunday afternoon checking out artworks in some of the grand museums of the world and I have to say, it is captivating. Of course, nothing can beat seeing an artwork in real life but if you can’t get to The State Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg or if you don’t feel like battling the crowds at the Uffizi, then Google Art Project might be the next best thing.
Zooming in on the eye: Botticelli’s Birth of Venus
The artworks included in Google’s Art Project range from Botticelli’s Birth of Venus to Chris Ofili’s No Woman, No Cry; from Cezanne’s post impressionist works to Byzantine iconography. In total, 486 artists from around the world have been included. While only one work from each museum has been ‘gigapixeled’, this is just the start of an ongoing project.
Art Project is very much a work in progress and there are still bugs to be ironed out. I found it frustrating that there is no overall search function. I could only search for artworks under each gallery which is time consuming. To discover whether a particular work of art is available to view in Art Project, you really need to know which gallery owns it and if that gallery is participating on the site. Chances are it won’t be.
The interface of Art Project can be clunky and sometimes the virtual tour is downright difficult to navigate. Several times I found myself careering out of control or being unceremoniously dumped out on the street! Other times the works are blurry or take forever to load (although that is probably the fault of my slow, regional Australia, internet connection). Nevertheless, you can spend endless hours exploring the museums in the comfort of your own home and it has enormous educational potential. An info panel on the side provides a range of information about the artwork, including viewing notes, artist biographies, audio tapes and YouTube videos. Anyone, anywhere in the world, can learn more about the history of over 1000 works, just with the click of a mouse.
Despite the participation of some high profile art museums in Art Project, there are some notable absences: the Louvre, the Musée d’Orsay, the Prado and the Geelong Gallery(!) are a few that came to mind. No doubt Google hopes more galleries will come on board in the next phase of the project.
Zooming in on the ring: The Merchant Georg Gisze,
Hans Holbein the Younger
Amit Sood, Head of Art Project, says in the Google media release: “This initiative started as a ‘20% project’ by a group of Googlers passionate about making art more accessible online. Together with our museum partners around the world we have created what we hope will be a fascinating resource for art-lovers, students and casual museum goers alike – inspiring them to one day visit the real thing.”
I am inspired! Art Project can’t replicate the exhilaration of viewing a magnificent work of art in the flesh but it does provide a new viewpoint. So check it out at http://www.googleartproject.com. Here is a video to pique your interest.
The participating museums are:
1. Alte Nationalgalerie – Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Berlin – Germany
2. Freer Gallery of Art, Smithsonian, Washington DC – USA
3. The Frick Collection, NYC – USA
4. Gemäldegalerie – Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Berlin – Germany
5. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, NYC – USA
6. MoMA, The Museum of Modern Art, NYC – USA
7. Museo Reina Sofia, Madrid – Spain
8. Museo Thyssen – Bornemisza, Madrid – Spain
9. Museum Kampa, Prague – Czech Republic
10. National Gallery, London – UK
11. Palace of Versailles – France
12. Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam – The Netherlands
13. The State Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg – Russia
14. State Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow – Russia
15. Tate Britain, London – UK
16. Uffizi Gallery, Florence – Italy
17. Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam – The Netherlands
Art Project Stats:
- 11 Cities
- 9 Countries
- 17 Museums
- 17 ‘gigapixel’ pictures
- 385 gallery rooms
- 486 artists
- 1061 high res artwork images
- More than 6,000 Street View ‘panoramas’
Gigapixel artworks for each museum:
- Alte Nationalgalerie: In the Conservatory, Edouard Manet (1878-1879)
- Freer Gallery of Art, Smithsonian: The Princess from the Land of Porcelain, James McNeill Whistler (1863-1865)
- The Frick Collection: St Francis in the Desert, Giovanni Bellini (started around 1480)
- Gemäldegalerie: The Merchant Georg Gisze, Hans Holbein the Younger (1497 – 1562)
- Museum Kampa: The Cathedral, František Kupka (1912-1913)
- The Metropolitan Museum of Art: The Harvesters, Pieter Bruegel the Elder (1565)
- MoMA, The Museum of Modern Art: The Starry Night, Vincent van Gogh (1889)
- Museo Reina Sofia: The Bottle of Anís del Mono, Juan Gris (1914)
- Museo Thyssen – Bornemisza: Young Knight in a Landscape, Vittore Capaccio (1510)
- National Gallery: The Ambassadors, Hans Holbein the Younger (1533)
- Palace of Versailles: Marie-Antoinette de Lorraine-Habsbourg, Queen of France, and her children, Louise Elisabeth Vigée-Lebrun (1787)
- Rijksmuseum: Night Watch, Rembrandt Harmensz. van Rijn (1642)
- The State Hermitage Museum: Return of the Prodigal Son, Rembrandt Harmensz van Rijn (1663-1665)
- State Tretyakov Gallery: The Apparition of Christ to the People (The Apparition of the Messiah), Aleksander Ivanov (1837-1857)
- Tate Britain: No Woman, No Cry, Chris Ofili (1998)
- Uffizi Gallery, Florence: The Birth of Venus, Sandro Botticelli (1483-1485)
- Van Gogh Museum, : The Bedroom, Vincent van Gogh (1888)
Zooming in on Rembrandt’s face at the back: The Nightwatch, Rembrandt
(Peter Greenaway will love this!)
Zooming in on the signature: The Cathedral, František Kupka
(This is so addictive!)
Zooming in on the moon: The Starry Night, Vincent van Gogh
• A website that makes art history accessible for all – smarthistory.org – great educational videos about artworks.