Google Street View offers art gallery tours

Tuesday 01 February 2011 14:27

Google's Street View technology is being taken indoors for the first time - into some of the world's most famous art galleries.

Tate Britain, the National Gallery, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the State Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg and the Palace of Versailles in France are among 17 museums which have collaborated with the internet giant to offer 360 degree virtual tours of their galleries.

Artworks, such as Chris Ofili's elephant-dung piece No Woman, No Cry, will be seen in "extraordinary detail"... beyond what is "possible with the naked eye".

Each museum involved in Google Art Project, launched today, is showing one of the works in its collection in super-high resolution.

The Ofili painting, selected by Tate Britain, is famous for containing tiny images of London teenager Stephen Lawrence, who was murdered in 1993, within a woman's teardrops.

Each painting is captured in around seven billion pixels, making their online display around 1,000 times more detailed than an average digital camera.

Other works of art which can now be seen in great detail include Vincent Van Gogh's The Starry Night from the Museum Of Modern Art (MoMA) and The Ambassadors by Hans Holbein the Younger at the National Gallery.

Google said it took between four and eight hours to capture each painting in great detail with thousands of images which are "stitched" together.

The technology reveals hard to see details such as the tiny Latin couplet in Holbein's The Merchant Georg Gisze.

As well as the 17 images that can be seen in super-high resolution, 1000 artworks can be seen on gallery walls.

Google has used its Street View technology to enable people to explore 385 gallery rooms around the world in the same way as they can wander down streets virtually with Google Maps.

Tate director Sir Nicholas Serota said the project "gives all our audiences an unrivalled opportunity to come really close to great works of art."

He said the gallery selected the Ofili painting because it was "made in the last 15 years about an issue that's highly relevant to large number of people in this country".

Nelson Mattos, vice president of engineering at Google, called the project "a major step forward in the way people are going to interact with these major treasures".

He said that "millions of children who will probably never have the opportunity to see these great pieces of art" will now be able to do so online.

He added: "We don't believe that this technology is going to prevent people from coming to the museums. We hope that the opposite is going to happen. This is just the first step, the first incarnation of the system. The project is going to continue."

He denied that the virtual tours of the galleries provided information for potential art thieves, saying: "Like every piece of technology, there's always someone that figures out a way to misuse (it)."

He added: "It's not a lot different from the information that you get when you arrive at a gallery...I don't think it makes any difference from a security perspective."

He joked: "If you're really thinking of stealing a painting, coming to the museum is probably the best way to check the security system."

London Mayor Boris Johnson called the project a "noble initiative (that) will give millions a unique chance to experience great art collections from around the world, from the comfort of their computer".

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