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View masterpieces up close, through the Internet

A joint project launched by Google and the Prado Museum allows 14 masterpieces belonging to the Spanish gallery's collection to be viewed in mega high resolution via the Internet.

art and culture Updated: Jan 15, 2009 21:04 IST

A joint project launched by Google and the Prado Museum allows 14 masterpieces belonging to the Spanish gallery's collection to be viewed in mega high resolution via the Internet, EFE news agency reported.

The project, dubbed Masterworks of the Prado on Google Earth, will allow details of the paintings to be seen that the human eye cannot perceive directly, while the Prado becomes the first international museum making it possible to study reproductions of its paintings that are life-sized and more.

The sewing of the canvas of Las Meninas by Velazquez, the hidden details in The Garden of Earthly Delights by Hieronymus Bosch, the almost imperceptible tears of St. John in Descent from the Cross by Roger van der Weyden and the bee that has landed on a flower in The Three Graces by Peter Paul Rubens are suddenly as big as life.

The project also provides the possibility of viewing a full-sized version of Titian's The Emperor Charles V, on Horseback, in Mühlberg.

Completing the list of 14 masterpieces are The Crucifixion by Juan de Flandes, The Nobleman with his Hand on his Chest by El Greco, Jacob's Dream by Ribera, Third of May by Goya, The Annunciation by Fra Angelico, The Cardinal by Rafael, The Immaculate Conception by Tiepolo, Albrecht Dürer's Self Portrait and Artemis by Rembrandt.

The selection of these works concurs with the aim stated by the Prado Museum on its web site - they are essential works from an educational point of view since they represent all the schools in the museum's collection.

Prado director Miguel Zugaza believes that a choice of any of the Prado's other 1,000 works would have been equally valid.

Although these images are no substitute for seeing the works of art directly, "the degree of quality makes the works universal and captures details invisible when seen directly," he said.

The director also said that there is no better way to pay a tribute to art's greatest masters than by making their works universal.

Making them universal is one of the goals of the project but also "beyond our delight in the images," Zugaza said, wanting to stress their importance to research and teaching and enriching both of these areas.

The extraordinary precision achieved "allows us to observe the details of restorations carried out, as well as offering us the extraordinary pleasure of being able to contemplate each bit of a work of such incredible complexity as "The Garden of Earthly Delights," Zugaza said.

He surmised with some amusement that Goya and Velazquez "would be terrified" by the discovery of such precision, but added that "they would be as fascinated as we are."

By means of digital images, "we see a scientific dissection, although we won't be able to contemplate the painting's soul as we do in a direct contemplation of the work," the director said, adding that the future of museums will be closely linked to new technologies and new forms of communication.

The project, the only one of its kind in the world, was described by Javier Rodriguez Zapatero, director of Google Spain, as "one more advance in the democratization of access to information and culture, in this case bringing art to everyone."

With no cost to the Prado, the project, which could be enlarged depending on its acceptance, allows the viewing of images with close to 14,000 megapixels and a precision 1,400 times greater than could be obtained with a digital camera of 10 megapixels.