The Renaissance goes on-line

The Green Room where every surfer wants to be
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The Independent Culture
There's an old African saying that maintains, "Foreigners see only what they know". The web site that is home to the Grove Dictionary of Art (the most comprehensive art-historical reference work available) would dispute that. In the spirit of the "global village", its editors have eschewed the Anglo-centric approach and have assigned specialists of 120 nationalities to expatiate on all the visual arts, from prehistory to the 1990s, of every country in the world. This mammoth work is also available in book form, in 34 volumes. But that's old news, this on-line dictionary is what the internet has been waiting for.

And it's oh-so delectably easy to use. Articles are listed A-Z, but within each article key words are marked in bold hypertext, click on one, and you begin a labyrinthine journey, the only borders of which are dictated by your fancy. I started at "Aztec", skipped the history, the famous sites, the main protagonists, and clicked on "Mesoamerican featherwork". Of the two basic techniques employed by the amanteca "members of the Aztec featherworkers' guild"), the best illustrated here is ihuitlacuilolli ("feather painting"). The head-dresses of Aztec gods are depicted in all their dyed-feather glory, as well as the obsidian knives, ancient pots of orchid-derived glue, and bone blades used in their construction. Their social and religious significance is described; the last instance of this ancient craft in practice is noted.

Once I'd tired of Teotihuacan feathered iconography, I clicked on "fan", and ended up in the London Fan Museum, where I could admire a spangled gold-leaf and silver, cockade fan dated c.1808-12, containing a spy glass in its pivot. Digressions are the stuff the web is made of: the baroque intrigues of Les Liaisons Dangereuses suddenly came to minutely detailed life.

Of course, I could have stuck to the cultural references I know: 14th- century Tuscany (I once did the Piero della Francesca trail), but I knew nothing about the Spinello boys: Luca the goldsmith, and his sons Niccolo the sculptor and Aretino the painter. Hardly surprising, since the remnants of their frescoes, statues and altarpieces are housed anywhere but in Tuscany. So Grove took me to Cambridge, Massachusetts; the St Petersburg Hermitage; Budapest's national museum, and the New York Metropolitan. Full biographies are provided, contemporary accounts are quoted, and their working methods described. Bravo, new website!

So don't be a foreigner and stick to A-Z. Digress to see what you don't know. And if you're stuck on ideas for a Christmas present for that aesthetically minded, net-surfing special person in your life, buy a one-year subscription and let them skim the surface of the 41,000 articles, 100,000 colour images (chronological charts, maps, line drawings, and artworks from more than 750 museums), and more than 8,000 links to archaeological sites around the world, constantly being updated, that constitute this continually fascinating and exquisitely crafted web site.

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