Google makes famous artwork more accessible

In a move that will benefit students, art historians, and casual viewers alike, Spain’s Prado Museum has teamed up with Google Earth for a project that allows people to view the gallery’s main works of art from their computers–and even zoom in on details not immediately discernible to the human eye.

The initiative, announced Jan. 13, is said to be the first of its kind involving an art museum. It involves 14 of the Prado’s choicest paintings, including Diego Velazquez’s "Las Meninas," Francisco de Goya’s "Third of May," Peter Paul Rubens’ "The Three Graces," and Hieronymus Bosch’s "The Garden of Earthly Delights."

"There is no better way to pay tribute to the great masters of the history of art than to universalize knowledge of their works using optimum conditions," said Prado director Miguel Zugaza.

Google Spain director Javier Rodriguez Zapatero said the images now available on the internet were 1,400 times clearer than what would be rendered with a 10-megapixel camera.

"With Google Earth technology, it is possible to enjoy these magnificent works in a way never previously possible–obtaining details impossible to appreciate through [even] firsthand observation," he said during a news conference at the museum.

Google Earth is a free service provided by the internet search engine company that uses satellite technology to reproduce maps and finely detailed images of places throughout the world, from people’s houses in American cities to beaches or forests in Africa.

The Prado idea was the brainchild of Google worker Clara Rivera.

"There is nothing comparable to standing before any of these paintings, but this offers a complementary view," Rivera said.

"Normally you have to stand a good distance away from these works, but this offers you the chance to see details that you could only see from a big ladder placed right beside them."

With the click of a mouse, she showed examples including that of a minuscule wasp on the petal of a flower just above the head of the women in the Rubens work. Another gave a microscopic glance of a teardrop in Roger van der Weyden’s "Descent from the Cross."

The project involved 8,200 photographs taken between May and July last year, which were then combined with Google Earth’s zoom-in technology.

"With the digital image we’re seeing the body of the paintings with almost scientific detail," Zugaza said. "What we don’t see is the soul. The soul will always only be seen by contemplating the original."

Rodriguez Zapatero said there were no immediate plans to extend the initiative to more of the Prado’s paintings or to other museums. He said Google had footed the entire bill, but he declined to give any details of costs.

The images can be seen by going to Google, downloading the Google Earth software, then typing in "Prado Museum" in the search engine. Once the museum zooms into focus, click on the square with the name of the museum.


Prado Museum

Google Earth