There are times I just want to hug the internet, and say “I love you Internet!“.
Google, that monolithic giant of search, advertising, maps, stats and online software, whose offerings and initiatives have ranged from the amazing (search, maps) to the not-so wonderful (privacy issues), has spun off a new initiative for which I will forgive most of their transgressions.
Google on Monday unveiled a new feature called Google Art Project that is nothing short of wonderful and amazing, and, if Google’s history is any indication, stands to become even more wonderful and amazing as time goes on.
The project is an online archive of ultra-high-resolution images of great works of art.
Google has applied their “Street View” technology, familiar for providing zoomable street-level images within the context of Google Maps, to the display of both the works and the galleries in which they reside.
Google Street View has been put to unofficial art related use before, notably with the Virtual Paintout (my post here) in which artists virtually “visit” a specified location by way of Google Street View, and use the images as reference for “on location” paintings.
Here, the technology is being put to much different use by Google, allowing some of the best views of great paintings available online.
At the moment they are working with 17 museums, each of which has contributed one or more gigapixel level images to the project; and an impressive start it is:
Alte Nationalgalerie, Berlin – Germany
Freer Gallery of Art, Smithsonian, Washington DC – USA
The Frick Collection, NYC – USA
Gemäldegalerie, Berlin – Germany
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, NYC – USA
MoMA, The Museum of Modern Art, NYC – USA
Museo Reina Sofia, Madrid – Spain
Museo Thyssen – Bornemisza, Madrid – Spain
Museum Kampa, Prague – Czech Republic
National Gallery, London – UK
Palace of Versailles – France
Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam – The Netherlands
The State Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg – Russia
State Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow – Russia
Tate Britain, London – UK
Uffizi Gallery, Florence – Italy
Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam – The Netherlands
Starting from a list that appears on the project’s home page when you mouse over the initial image, you can choose a museum, then browse the museum’s corridors, or go right to an artwork.
Unlike the stingy feeling so many museums project with tiny preview images and zooming images that have to be scrolled in frustratingly small little windows, the artworks here are available in a full screen zooming interface, and when I say “zoom” I mean it really zooms, down to an astonishing level of detail.
In the images above, I’ve chosen to visit the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam and zoom in to a nose-up-against-the-canvas view of Rembrandt’s The Shooting Company of Frans Banning Cocq, commonly known as The Night Watch.
Though the Flash drop-down for browsing museums and works is a bit glitchy, the interface’s provision for scrolling and zooming is wonderfully fluid, and the ability to get your eyeballs right up to Rembrandt’s textural brushwork is just delicious.
I’ve left the zooming control in my images just to demonstrate it, but it and other interface elements politely melt away when not in use. In the upper right is a Visitor Guide button, which provides a general introduction to the project (there is also a short introductory video here), and an info (“i”) button which gives access to an information panel with a menu of options for information about the painting, provided by the museum in which it hangs.
Of note in that menu are links to “More Works by this Artist” and “More Works in this Museum”, which can lead to a nice browsing experience.
There are some amazing images to be seen, including The Harvesters by Pieter Bruegel the Elder in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Van Gogh’s The Starry Night at the MoMA, Hans Holbein’s enigmatic The Ambassadors (my post here) in the National Gallery, London and (be still my beating heart) Botticelli’s The Birth of Venus in the Uffizi!
I’ll give my Major Time Sink Warning and bid you enjoy!
All art on the internet should be like this.