February 1, 2011 5:24 pm

Google brings art on a digital trolley

Art lovers will be able to tour some of the world’s best-known galleries and museums from the comfort of their armchairs thanks to a new service from Google.

The search engine has teamed up with 17 art galleries – including the Tate Britain in London, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the Uffizi in Florence and the Hermitage in St Petersburg – to capture high-resolution images of famous works.

Details invisible to the naked eye, such as brush strokes and paint cracks, can be examined online on 17-gigapixel pictures, including Botticelli’s “Birth of Venus” and Van Gogh’s “Bedroom”, with a further 1,061 images captured in normal high resolution.

“Viewers will see details and explore the painting in a way that hasn’t been possible before,” said Dr Nicholas Penny, director of the National Gallery in London.

Using Google’s “Street View” technology, users can also take 360-degree tours of nearly 400 rooms and spaces, to see collections hanging on the walls as their curators intended to display them.

Rather than the cars and bikes used to capture roads around the world for Street View, the galleries were photographed from a trolley, and the images later “stitched” together.

Even though many of the museums charge for entry, Google’s “Art Project” will be available free of charge. The museums hope wider availability of their collections will encourage more people to visit in person.

Jean-Jacques Aillagon, president of the Château de Versailles, said: “The virtual tour of the Grand Apartments of the King and Queen and the Hall of Mirrors, in partnership with Google, is a tremendous source of information and learning to help one plan and enhance a visit.”

Critics noted the absence of several large museums, such as the Vatican and the Louvre, from the project, and said Street View technology for navigating galleries was clumsy and produced pictures in much lower resolution than the detailed scanning given to a minority of works.

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