Prado Paintings In Stunning Close-Up On Google Earth
Date: 15 Jan 2009 | | Views: 3589
Globe-trotting technology allows works of Goya, Velázquez and Bosch to be seen in finest detail
Source: Bloomberg, by Giles Tremlett
Armchair tourists who are used to travelling the globe with Google Earth can now use the same technology to crawl all over the masterpieces in one of the world's most famous galleries: the Prado.
The Madrid museum and the internet search giant today unveil the first use of Google's mapping programme to allow art lovers to get so close to their favourite paintings that even the brush strokes are visible.
"It allows people to see the main masterworks in the museum as they never have done before," the museum said. "You can see details that the human eye alone is unable to see."
Fourteen of the Prado's masterpieces – including works by Francisco de Goya, Diego Velázquez and Hieronymus Bosch – can be seen online in almost microscopic detail. The technology allows internet users to fly across the surface of the canvases, homing in on details that would be invisible to the naked eye if they visited the Madrid gallery in person.
These include the cavorting nudes and the eye-poppingly painful tortures in Bosch's 16th-century triptych The Garden of Earthly Delights, which is one of the best-known paintings at the Prado.
Velázquez's portrait of the family of Philip IV of Spain, Las Meninas, can also be viewed in the kind of detail that would otherwise require art lovers to glue their noses to the canvas. Other works available include Goya's El Tres de Mayo, Rubens's The Three Graces and paintings by Titian, El Greco and Rembrandt.
The Google Earth images have a resolution of 14,000 megapixels, some 1,400 times greater than a picture taken on a standard 10 megapixel camera. They were sewn together digitally from more than 8,000 high-resolution photographs of sections of the paintings.
Some of the original masterpieces, such as the 3.3- by 2.8-metre Titian portrait of Emperor Charles V, are so large that it is impossible to get close enough to see minute details in the original. "You would need a three-metre-high stepladder," said Clara Rivera of Google.
The Prado's director, Miguel Zugaza, said that among other things, he had used the images to check the quality of restoration work. He added that Google's gigapixel gallery was especially useful for paintings such as The Garden of Earthly Delights, which contained so much detail it was difficult to take it all in, even after seeing the painting many times.
Zugaza conceded that a photographic image, however precise, could never replace the original. "This shows you the body of the painting, but what you won't find here is the soul," he said. "You can only find that by looking at the original."
People wanting to see the masterpieces must have first installed Google Earth, which can be downloaded from the Google website. The pictures can be found in the preview section of the geographic web part of the layers menu of Google Earth.
Google Earth and the Prado are due to launch a formal presentation of the project in Madrid later today. Google has no plans yet to extend the programme to other museums.
Google Earth is a virtual globe and map programme that uses satellite information, GPS technology and aerial photography to build a photographic map of the world. It allows users to indulge in virtual travel around the globe – and the occasional bit of snooping on the houses of friends living in far-off continents – without having to shift from their chairs.