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Visit 17 world museums for free

art-and-culture Updated: Feb 07, 2011 19:05 IST
Sneha Mahale
Sneha Mahale
Hindustan Times
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Catching a glimpse of Botticelli’s Birth of Venus or a Rembrandt or even the ceilings of The Palace Of Versailles is no longer a rich man’s dream. You don’t even need to leave the comforts of your home and travel halfway across the world to see these masterpieces. Art lovers can now take a free virtual tour of 17 of the world’s best museums online whenever they want to.

This week, Google unveiled its latest venture, the Art Project, a Java-based application, in collaboration with some of the world’s most acclaimed art museums. The project enables people to discover and view more than 1000 artworks online in extraordinary detail and allows you to take a virtual tour of any of the museums featured. Over 1000 artworks by 486 artists from around the world can be accessed via this project including Indian artworks like Jahangir Preferring A Sufi Shaikh To Kings, from the St Petersburg album.

“A bunch of people in Google, who are passionate about art, initiated this project. They then approached the museums, who were happy to take things forward and the Art Project came about,” says Manik Gupta, product manager, Japan & Asia-Pacific, Google. The museums featured include The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, The National Gallery in London, The Palace of Versailles in France, Museo Reina Sofia in Madrid and Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam.

Works of art included in the project range from Botticelli’s Birth of Venus to Chris Ofili’s No Woman, No Cry, Cezanne’s post-impressionist works to Byzantine iconography. You can also see the ceilings of Versailles, the ancient Egyptian temples, a collection of Whistlers as well as Rembrandts from all over the globe.

“We created an initial list of museums that we wanted to approach. After getting the necessary permissions, we fitted a trolley with a camera and went inside the museums, clicking pictures of all the artworks on display,” says Gupta. The museums too provided expertise and guidance, from choosing which collections to feature; to advising on the best angle to capture photos; to the kind of information that should accompany the artwork.

More features were then added such as the 360-degree tours of the interiors of selected galleries, enabling smooth navigation of over 385 rooms within the museums. Gallery interiors can also be explored directly from within Street View in Google Maps.

In addition, art buffs can also navigate and select works of art that interest them, clicking to discover more or diving into high resolution images, where available. “The images are of such high resolution that you can actually zoom in to see intricate details of the painting as well as the exact brush strokes,” says Gupta. The info panel allows you to read more about an artwork, find more works by that artist and watch related videos on YouTube.

Each of the 17 museums also selected one artwork to be photographed in extraordinary detail using super high resolution or ‘gigapixel’ photo capturing technology. Hard to see details suddenly become clear such as the tiny Latin couplet, which appears in Hans Holbein the Younger’s The Merchant Georg Gisze. Or the people hidden behind the tree in Ivanov’s The Apparition of Christ to the People.

You can also create an account and add favourites to the ‘Create an Artwork Collection’ section. This feature allows users to save specific views of any of 1000+ artworks and build their own personalised collection. Comments can be added to each painting and the whole collection can then be shared with friends and family. There are plans to expand this pilot project and include Indian museums into the list.

Museums featured
Alte Nationalgalerie, Berlin - Germany
Freer Gallery of Art, Smithsonian, Washington DC - USA
The Frick Collection, New York - USA
Gemäldegalerie, Berlin - Germany
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York - USA
MoMA, The Museum of Modern Art, New York - 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

The Art Project
in numbers
11 cities, 9 countries
17 museums
17 gigapixel pictures
385 gallery rooms
486 artists
1061 high-resolution artwork images
More than 6,000 Street View ‘panoramas’

To visit, log on to www.googlearttproject.com