In my recent post on Monet at the Grand Palais, I was praising the online gallery in which a large number of Monet’s works have been made viewable on the web in relatively high resolution images.
I say “relatively” because Haltadefinizione, or “HAL9000″ (English version here), an Italian project specializing in high-definition photography, has made available on the web several great masterpieces in what can be considered extreme high resolution.
I wrote in 2007 about their high resolution online image of Leonardo da Vinci’s Last Supper. That image consisted of 16 billion pixels, at the time reaching the limits of the technology.
Their more recent image of Botticelli’s La Primivera consists of 28 billion pixels, about 3,000 times the resolution of a consumer digital camera. The pixel density (pixels per inch, or ppi) has also increased, from 580 to 1,500ppi (magazine and book printing are typically 300ppi).
In contrast to the “gallery view” afforded by the online Monet exhibit (in which you can see individual brushstrokes wonderfully), these images are more like a “conservator’s view”, allowing you to zoom in to a level as if observed under a magnifying lens.
You need to be patient with the image as it loads, but once loaded, the interface is remarkably responsive as you zoom. The images are watermarked, but that’s a small quibble considering what they are offering, and you can work around the watermarks by altering the magnification level and scrolling a bit.
In addition to several works already imaged, they are working in cooperation with the famed Uffizi Gallery in Florence to digitize 24 of the great museum’s works.
So far, there are ten works viewable on the site:
Da Vinci’s Last Supper
Da Vinci’s Annunciation
Botticelli’s The Birth of Venus
Verrocchio & Leonardo’s The Baptism of Christ
Gaudenzio Ferrari’s Life Stories of Christ
Agnolo Bronzino’s Elanor of Toledo
Francesco Paolo Michetti’s The Daughter of Iorio
In addition Botticelli’s La Primavera is available on the la Repubblica site.
All are remarkable in their own way. The experience of putting your nose up to these works is amazing.
I had the pleasure of spending the better part of an hour with Botticelli’s La Primavera and Birth of Venus (image above) when I was in Florence a few years ago.
I won’t say that the digital image is a substitute for seeing great works like this in person, it’s a different experience with its own plusses and minuses (I couldn’t put my nose up to the canvas), but if you can’t get to the Uffizi, it may well be the next best thing.
[Addendum: (2013) This has largely been superseded by the Google Art Project, for which no account is necessary to view all the high definition images, and within which the images are not annoyingly watermarked.
See my posts on the Google Art Project.]