Google Seeks Mona Lisa

Google Inc. (GOOG) (GOOG) has expanded its virtual
tours to more than 150 of the world’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 d’Orsay in Paris and Jerusalem’s Israel Museum. The
Louvre in the French capital, home of the Da Vinci masterpiece,
isn’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 won’t generate revenue, including
through advertising, though it gives no figures.

“Everyone asks me if we have Leonardo’s Mona Lisa,” Amit Sood, who heads the project, said at a news briefing in Paris.
“We’re talking to people from the Louvre. Maybe they’ll be part
of the next phase,” he said of the world’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
wouldn’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 “almost a marriage of the moment,” James Snyder, director of Israel Museum, said in an interview.

Orsay’s Monet

Among the museum’s items now online is the interior of an
18th-century Italian Vittoria Veneto Synagogue and some of Claude Monet’s Water Lilies. The French announcement was made in Orsay,
with its Monet-filled walls.

“Google is committed to bringing art and culture online
and making them universally accessible,” said Yossi Matias,
managing director of Google’s RD center in Israel.

The site started in February 2011 with works from the Tate
Britain, New York’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.

Vincent’s Bedrooms

“Out of pure coincidence we’ve reunited the three versions
of Vincent Van Gogh’s ‘The Bedroom’ in one place,” 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 Schiele’s 1914 work “Naked Girls Embracing” in the
Leopold Museum, Vienna, to Bellini’s “St. Francis in the
Desert,” dating from about 1480, in the Frick Collection.

The 7-gigapixel images throw up curious details. In Pieter
Bruegel the Elder’s “The Harvesters” (1565), from the Met,
tiny background figures can be seen throwing sticks at a tied-up
goose in a game called squail.

In “The Ambassadors” (1533) — now in the U.K.’s National
Gallery — Hans Holbein not only represents France’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

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

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