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Google Art Project: Cool, but Little Ancient Material

February 2, 2011

The buzz on twitter yesterday was Google Art Project, a new Google project (what will those people think of next!) that takes the Google Street View idea indoors – one can “walk” through the galleries of about 15 wonderful museums worldwide, getting a sense of the entire rooms, and then focus in on some specific artworks.  It’s a must-see if you teach any kind of art history classes, and well worth looking at for archaeologists, historians, and humanities folks generally.

What’s good:

  • Great list of museums, with good international coverage: Versailles, Hermitage, Uffizi.
  • Incredible detail for some of the artworks.  Try looking at a van Gogh on maximum zoom – never mind the brushstrokes, you can see the weave of the canvas!
  • Especially valuable for museums like the Frick (and many others) where the room itself, the experience of works of art in an architectural setting, with furniture and decor, is a big component of the visitor experience.

What I’d improve if it were mine:

  • For museums you don’t already know, it’s not easy to figure out where to look for art you’re interested in.  In many museums, the galleries have room numbers that tell nothing about their contents, so you have to browse through all of them to see what, if anything, you want to see is there. (There is a “room description” but it’s at least 2 clicks to get there.)
  • Not all the art is included in the super-zoom (which is understandable, but seeing the art on the walls makes you want to zoom!)
  • Heavy focus on western European (and American) museums and western European painting (medieval-modern).  I’d love to see a more worldwide focus, and a broader time horizon. More, more more!
  • I find “walking” through the rooms a little tricky – it’s like a drunk person is operating my cursor.  This may be user error (though I promise I am not drunk.)

Specifically of interest to classicists/archaeologists:

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