Googling at the Prado

January 20th, 2009

With the usual hoopla Google has launched a virtual tour of the Prado Museum in Madrid that enables visitors to closely examine 14 of its masterpieces on their computers monitors. A Google spokesman said: “The paintings have been photographed in very high resolution and contain as many as 14,000 million pixels (14 gigapixels).

“With this high level resolution you are able to see fine details such as the tiny bee on a flower in The Three Graces (by Rubens), delicate tears on the faces of the figures in The Descent from the Cross (by Roger van der Weyden) and complex figures in The Garden of Earthly Delights (by Bosch).”

While broadening the access to digital images of art works is welcomed news, it remains to be seen what real need this initiative may ultimately fulfill. What is Google’s commitment to art other than drumming up one-time novel seekers and sprinkling their brand with a bit of highbrow culture? Personal experience has shown me that museum goers rarely spend more than a few seconds per painting as they “do” the gallery and with special exhibitions it is not uncommon that visitors spend more time reading the accompanying brochure than looking at the objects on display.

One Response to “Googling at the Prado”

  1. ARech

    To specify the matter somewhat: The ‘ultrahigh resolution’ images from the 14 Prado-masterpieces are to be viewed on Google EARTH resp. the first 14 days one image a day on Google MAPS (searching for ‘Museo del Prado’). For further imformation (including a ‘Making of’-video) click here:

    IMHO: Better this way than misusing a world-known museum in an obscure virtual ‘world’ like ‘Second Life’ as it is the case with the Old Masters Gallery Dresden.

    I have made similar observations concerning the viewing customs of most of the museum goers. It often seems, even at special exhibitions that they walk through the rooms geting a short glimpse on the paintings, maybe spending half a minute in front of the respective center-piece, only to be able then to say afterwards, “I have been there. I have seen the exhibition.”

    Furthermore, in the time of high-speed motion films and games and the usual flood of visual impressions of all sorts in the daily TV people have unlearned to view a picture carefully, exploring all details it offers, like a little child do with its first picture book.

    Such ‘virtual tours’ and zoom-in facilities, combined with some resonable background-information to the respective painting may help those museum visitors who are earnestly interested in (re-)learning how to view and explore a picture, a painting, with true advantage for one’s own understanding of a master’s art and the specifics of the art in his time in general.

    Of course, those virtual tours will never compensate for viewing the original painting, but they are quite useful means for preparing a museum visit. Unfortunately, only a very few visitors may take advantage of these new multi-media means although they seem to flourish all around, and the websites of the major museums already compete fiercely in offering the most ingenious multi-media in-depth studies of single masterpieces, inspiring virtual round-tours through the museums etc. Anyway, spending some hours with preparing one’s museum visit is always worth the little sacrifice of time.

    If this new Google-project is now the non-plus-ultra in the virtual presentation of masterpieces will remain questionable. I have seen far more professional ones and would always prefer a well thought-out ‘Zoomify’-study.


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