Google Inc. (GOOG) (GOOG) has expanded its virtual
tours to more than 150 of the worldâ€™s major museums, featuring
putting high-resolution close-ups of masterworks by Van Gogh,
Rembrandt and Botticelli — but not the Mona Lisa.
The latest additions that went online this month include
the Musee dâ€™Orsay in Paris and Jerusalemâ€™s Israel Museum. The
Louvre in the French capital, home of the Da Vinci masterpiece,
isnâ€™t taking part in the website, dubbed Art Project.
Internet browsers can tour the galleries from 40 countries
as they would neighborhoods on Google Street View. Google is
seeking more new partners in the U.S., Europe and emerging
markets. It says the service wonâ€™t generate revenue, including
through advertising, though it gives no figures.
â€œEveryone asks me if we have Leonardoâ€™s Mona Lisa,â€ Amit Sood, who heads the project, said at a news briefing in Paris.
â€œWeâ€™re talking to people from the Louvre. Maybe theyâ€™ll be part
of the next phase,â€ he said of the worldâ€™s most visited museum,
which hosted 8.8 million people last year, according to its
When contacted by telephone by Bloomberg News, a
spokeswoman at the Louvre press office declined to comment and
wouldnâ€™t give her name.
The Israel Museum has already put the Dead Sea Scrolls
online and they were seen by 1 million visitors from more than
200 countries in about three days. The next step in
collaboration was â€œalmost a marriage of the moment,â€ James Snyder, director of Israel Museum, said in an interview.
Among the museumâ€™s items now online is the interior of an
18th-century Italian Vittoria Veneto Synagogue and some of Claude Monetâ€™s Water Lilies. The French announcement was made in Orsay,
with its Monet-filled walls.
â€œGoogle is committed to bringing art and culture online
and making them universally accessible,â€ said Yossi Matias,
managing director of Googleâ€™s RD center in Israel.
The site started in February 2011 with works from the Tate
Britain, New Yorkâ€™s Museum of Modern Art and 15 others from nine
countries. More than 40 of the museums have now allowed Google
to digitalize one artwork at a resolution of 7 billion pixels,
or 1,000 times the average digital camera.
The Mountain View, California-based Internet company has
sent robot-like devices equipped with cameras to roll around
museums from Sao Paulo to Istanbul over the past year, snapping
pictures of as many as 30,000 works.
â€œOut of pure coincidence weâ€™ve reunited the three versions
of Vincent Van Goghâ€™s â€˜The Bedroomâ€™ in one place,â€ said Sood,
who came up with the idea for Art Project two-and-a-half years
ago and now heads a team of seven people in London, including
former employees of the Met and the Tate.
By striking deals only with the museums, and not with
artists, their heirs nor foundations, Google avoids having to
deal with copyright issues, Sood said. The company has included
image security technology in the database to protect the photos,
he also said.
Major artworks by artists such as Picasso and other large
galleries are not included yet. Still, the collection ranges
from Egon Schieleâ€™s 1914 work â€œNaked Girls Embracingâ€ in the
Leopold Museum, Vienna, to Belliniâ€™s â€œSt. Francis in the
Desert,â€ dating from about 1480, in the Frick Collection.
The 7-gigapixel images throw up curious details. In Pieter
Bruegel the Elderâ€™s â€œThe Harvestersâ€ (1565), from the Met,
tiny background figures can be seen throwing sticks at a tied-up
goose in a game called squail.
In â€œThe Ambassadorsâ€ (1533) — now in the U.K.â€™s National
Gallery — Hans Holbein not only represents Franceâ€™s ambassador
to England, but makes sure that the tiny town where his chateau
is located is clearly marked on the globe in the picture.
The other museums taking part include the Uffizi Gallery in
Florence, the State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, the
Museo Reina Sofia in Madrid, the Palace of Versailles, and the
Gemaeldegalerie in Berlin.
To see the website, go to http://www.googleartproject.com.
To contact the reporters on the story:
Gwen Ackerman in Jerusalem at
Marie Mawad in Paris at
To contact the editor responsible for this story:
Manuela Hoelterhoff at