Google Art Project Van-Gogh

Google unleashed its ambitious Art Project this week – a visual library of more than 1,000 images of art from 17 major museums from around the world. The paintings, sculptures and installations are rendered in such detail – around 7 billion pixels each – that you can zoom up to the brushstrokes of the individual strands of hair on Sandro Botticelli’s The Birth of Venus at the Uffizi Gallery in Florence.

About Google Art Project

  • The project was launched on 1 February 2011
  • The project includes 17 images at a resolution of 7 gigapixels
  • Seventeen galleries and museums were included in the launch of the project

The color reproduction in the paintings is vibrant and stunning (see Albrecht Durer’s Adoration of the Magi). With Art Project, you can step into the Museum of Modern Art to take a peek at Vincent van Gogh’s Starry Night, or roam the Hall of Mirrors in the Palace of Versailles. It’s the type of mind-warping feat that only Google can accomplish. (Remember Google Pac-Man? That was nothing.)

it’s still an amazing exercise in Internet ingenuity

But what of it? How will having thousands of art images (Amit Sood, manager of Art Project, says Google will expand the initial library) change your life? My guess is probably not much, but it’s still an amazing exercise in Internet ingenuity.

I came to this conclusion after spending the past few days visiting each of the museums, which are empty of people and actually kind of creepy in a Blair Witch kind of way. Moving around is easiest in the floor plan mode, which allows you to jump from room to room. Google, which began work on Art Project 18 months ago, created a trolley version of the Street View vehicles to capture the galleries. The main problem though is that most of the galleries are simple box rooms, no more exciting online than they are in person. But there are some standouts, such as the aforementioned Uffizi and Versailles, the Frick Collection, which is stored in an early 20th century mansion on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art.  

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Obviously Art Project can’t overcome its physical limitations. Most of the pieces chosen by Art Project are, in reality, huge, as in wall-size huge. For example, The Birth of Venus is five-and-a-half feet by nine feet. Looking at them on a computer screen alters the experience from one of power and emotion to an investigation of the details. You can zoom in on every collar ruffle in Rembrandt’s Night Watch or the individual tulip petals on Hans Bollingier’s Still Life with Flowers. There were earrings, pendants and reflections that while I may have known were there, could never have focused on so intently before.

Some of the pieces were accompanied with audio commentary. Some came with video. Most had neither. The commentary for the pieces in the State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg was in Russian. I’m pretty sure that will be remedied before too long.

Amit Sood, the project manager on Art Project, says on the Google blog that it’s “our first step toward making great art more accessible, and we hope to add more museums and works of art in time.”

Follow Richard S. Chang on Twitter: @r_s_c

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