Saturday, November 24, 2012

New Rijksmuseum website

New Rikjsmuseum website: Rembrandt, Vermeer, Aelbert Cuyp, Cornelis Springer
The Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam is one of the world’s great museums, with a collection rich in famous masterpieces from the likes of Rembrandt and Vermeer, as well as hundreds of lesser known treasures.

The museum’s website, like many museum websites, long left something to be desired. Though numerous images were available, many in high resolution, they were not easy to search or browse, and overall presentation was somewhat awkward.

The museum recently launched a completely redesigned website, with a much better interface, easier access for searching, and in particular much better provisions for browsing and discovering images.

Choose Language at upper right if you would like to change to English, and then “Collection” to either Explore or Search the collection. The Explore section offers highlights, a good place to start, and offers categories like Artists, Works, Subjects and Styles which are then subdivided into subcategories.

The selections within a given artist or subject are no longer presented as tiny scrolling thumbnails, but as large scrolling thumbnails (certainly an improvement).

The individual images are then presented fullscreen, adapting dynamically to the size of your browser window, and overlaid with navigation widgets (I don’t know of a way to hide the latter), including controls to zoom the image. You can also move the image within the browser window by clicking and dragging.

The “i” at the bottom of the screen brings up an information panel with information about the image, links to details and a “Download image” link. To download images, however, requires creating a free “Rijksstudio” account (basically just an email address). You must then, for every image you download, choose the level of rights (“Personal use”) and click an “I agree with terms and conditions” checkbox — every time.

I will be quick to say that the new site is a vast and welcome improvement over their old one, and the images are large and well reproduced, but this kind of nonsensical legal paranoia mars the experience and makes the museum look small minded and disrespectful of their visitors.

(Hello! Almost all of these works are hundreds of years old, therefore in the public domain, and are not subject to copyright by international, or even specifically Dutch, copyright law. The standard here in the US is that photographs that just reproduce public domain artworks are also in the public domain. Perhaps this has yet to be tested in Dutch courts; but the checkbox barrier to downloading, or even viewing the work without the navigation widgets, just seems petty.)

That being groused about, the new site is well worth visiting and exploring, and a Rijksstudio account is worth setting up, if only for the unobstructed view of the high resolution images. Their intention is for visitors to form their own Rijksstudio collections, essentially bookmarked images similar to the collections you can make in the Google Art Project. They go on to offer to sell you prints of the images, or crops of them, in various modes (hence, I suppose, some of the reproduction rights BS).

Though not quite at the level of the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s fantastic website makeover, this is still a worthy world-class museum website, suited to a world class museum, and a welcome addition to the web’s list of outstanding art resources. (Now if only the Louvre and the Musée d’Orsay would follow suit…)

(Images above: Rembrandt, Vermeer, Aelbert Cuyp, Cornelis Springer)

7 thoughts on “New Rijksmuseum website

  1. Alvin Richard

    I’ve visited the Rijksmuseum back in 1997. Night watch by Rembrandt is amazing, but Vermeer’s Milk Maid truly has to been seen in person as no book reproduction can’t quite match it….I just stood there mesmerized and in awe! Thanks for the update!

  2. Aoife

    I found that if you simply leave the image to rest for 30 seconds or so the navigation and “i” buttons disappear allowing you to view (or indeed screen grab) the complete work if you don’t want to download a high res version.

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