Nights at the museums with Google

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Published on July 19, 2016 with No Comments

Back in 1533 Hans Holbein the Younger, who was the son of Hans Holbein the Elder, painted The Ambassadors which is still among the most notable artworks of that era. The distinctive thing about The Ambassadors is that in order to truly perceive all of the elements in the painting, the viewer must stand at an angle. From the right angle, the object in the forefront of this painting is a skull. Art historians disagree on the significance of the skull and the unusual viewing requirements. Of course, by now, disagreement is somewhat of an expectation of the art historian crowd anyway.

Today the original painting hangs in the National Gallery in London where five centuries after its creation, The Ambassadors was captured for display in the digital museum known as the Google Art Project. Using an indoor version of Google Street View, along with specially-designed cameras, The Ambassadors and other artworks in numerous museums, were recorded and integrated with museum maps to be displayed on the Google Art Project website. One problem with applying this technology to a work such as The Ambassadors is that it isn’t easy to do justice to an artwork that requires different viewing angles. Try as they would, they couldn’t get the technology to tilt and turn quite like a human head.

Beyond that Google Art Project is an attempt to create an online collection of as many museums in the world, and the collections within those museums. While the technology may be judged as inferior in the case of Hans Holbein the Younger’s famed painting, it is thought to be a very good medium in other ways. Those who cannot travel to the museums can experience them virtually. A viewer can zoom in to check out the finer details such as brushstrokes on a work of art, something not possible from two feet away. Though Google Art Project still has a few bugs to work out, the team behind it believes this is a great way to make museums more accessible to the masses.

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