Google brings the masterpieces to you
[By Candice Jones]
I’ve been fortunate enough to live in Italy, one of the art capitals of the world. I have seen hundreds of side-street galleries and visited Florence to see Michelangelo’s David up close and personal.
If you have ever been lucky enough to wander through the vast halls of some of the world’s best museums and galleries, then you’ll also know the joy of the musky smells that permeate those halls, and the hushed exclamations of other visitors as they discover famous artworks.
There is something that makes you feel deferential when you see the works of Da Vinci or Rodin.
But for millions of people around the world, the idea of seeing the works of art’s grand masters is simply that — an idea. Many will never know the crowded hall at Paris’s Louvre, where people scramble to see the tiny Mona Lisa, buried behind three-inch-thick glass.
If you are one of the millions who’ll never jet off to New York to visit the Museum of Modern Art, then Google’s latest offering, the Google Art Project, is just for you.
The concept was born as a “20% project”, the time Google allows employees to build and develop their own ideas. It started with a small group of art lovers at Google who wanted to use technology to make international art galleries more accessible to the general public.
Users can enter virtually through the front doors of 17 celebrated galleries, including Florence’s Uffizi Gallery and the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam. Once inside, users can explore galleries room by room in a 360-degree view. Users can click on close-up images of more than a thousand artworks by more than 400 artists.
In each gallery, there is one artwork that has been photographed with a very high-resolution camera using “gigapixel” technology. According to Google, each of these images contains about 7bn pixels. This allows users to zoom in and see details that would be lost in a traditional photograph. They can see the brush strokes of a painting, or the tiniest crack in a marble sculpture and examine pieces in much more detail than would ever be possible under the watchful eye of gallery security.
Google has managed to convince owners of some of the most incredible works to allow them to be photographed and it has thoughtfully added information on each artist and artwork.
The technology is incredible because getting up close to an artwork is part of the joy of being in a gallery. Unfortunately, it’s not the entire experience. I remember how the first view of Botticelli’s Birth of Venus took my breath away. I’m not sure the high-resolution photo would have the same impact.
The gallery experience is not simply about the wonderful artwork. It’s also about the musky smell that captures the sense of wonder when you see a work that is almost 400 years old. Exploring a gallery is like a treasure hunt, moving from room to room, looking for the next pot of gold.
Though anyone would choose a real gallery over an artfully modelled 3D rendition, Google’s new project does accomplish what it set out to do, and that is make art more accessible.