A Gallery of 1,800 Gigapixel Images of Classic Paintings: See Vermeer’s Girl with the Pearl Earring, Van Gogh’s Starry Night & Other Masterpieces in Close Detail

Far be it from me, or any­one, to know the future, but sev­er­al signs point toward anoth­er sea­son or two of stay­ing indoors — and maybe putting trav­el plans on hold again. If, like me, you find your­self itch­ing to get away, maybe to final­ly make the jour­ney to see the art you’ve only seen in small-scale repro­duc­tions, don’t despair just yet. The art is com­ing to you, in ultra-high res­o­lu­tion, gigapix­el images from Google Cul­tur­al Insti­tute.

See extra­or­di­nary lev­els of detail in famous works of art like Ver­meer’s Girl with the Pearl Ear­ring and Van Gogh’s Star­ry Night. “So much of the beau­ty and pow­er of art lives in the details,” writes Google Cul­tur­al Insti­tute Engi­neer Ben St. John.

“You can only ful­ly appre­ci­ate the genius of artists like Mon­et or Van Gogh when you stand so close to a mas­ter­piece that your nose almost touch­es it.” This kind of inti­ma­cy is near­ly impos­si­ble to achieve in a crowd­ed gallery.

Google’s enor­mous art pho­tographs are, in some ways, supe­ri­or to obser­va­tion with the eye: “Zoom­ing into these images is the clos­est thing to walk­ing up to the real thing with a mag­ni­fy­ing glass.” Even when paint­ed on flat can­vas­es, works of art exist in three dimen­sions, and there’s still the mat­ter of col­or repro­duc­tion on your screen…. Yet the point remains: there’s no way you’d be able to get as close to Mon­et or Van Gogh’s work in per­son unless you were a con­ser­va­tor or maybe a muse­um guard.

Cre­at­ing these images has hith­er­to been an extreme­ly time-con­sum­ing affair that required the expert know-how of tech­ni­cians, a process that has ham­pered the wide adop­tion of gigapix­el images for the study of art. “In the first five years of the Google Cul­tur­al Insti­tute,” Google admits, “we’ve only been able to share about 200 gigapix­el images.” The process can now be auto­mat­ed, how­ev­er, expand­ing the gallery to 1800+ images and count­ing, with the inven­tion of a sophis­ti­cat­ed machine called the Art Cam­era:

A robot­ic sys­tem steers the cam­era auto­mat­i­cal­ly from detail to detail, tak­ing hun­dreds of high res­o­lu­tion close-ups of the paint­ing. To make sure the focus is right on each brush stroke, it’s equipped with a laser and a sonar that—much like a bat—uses high fre­quen­cy sound to mea­sure the dis­tance of the art­work. Once each detail is cap­tured, our soft­ware takes the thou­sands of close-up shots and, like a jig­saw, stitch­es the pieces togeth­er into one sin­gle image.

The tech­no­log­i­cal break­through inar­guably enhances our expe­ri­ence of art, whether we ever get to see these works in per­son, and it pre­serves a cul­tur­al lega­cy for pos­ter­i­ty. “Many of the works of our great­est artists are frag­ile and sen­si­tive to light and humid­i­ty,” Google Arts & Cul­ture notes. “With the Art Cam­era, muse­ums can share these price­less works with the glob­al pub­lic while they’re ensur­ing they’re pre­served for future gen­er­a­tions.”

They are pre­served in mul­ti­ple views that give the illu­sion of a three-dimen­sion­al expe­ri­ence, includ­ing a “street view” option that places view­ers inside the gallery and an aug­ment­ed real­i­ty app called Art Pro­jec­tor that “lets you see how art­works look in real size in front of you.” View­ing art this way goes miles beyond my art his­to­ry edu­ca­tion spent star­ing at the pages of Janson’s His­to­ry of Art, try­ing to imag­ine what it would be like if I could actu­al­ly see what was hap­pen­ing on the can­vas.

Projects like Google Arts & Cul­ture offer an entire­ly new kind of art edu­ca­tion by dig­i­tal­ly con­serv­ing hun­dreds of art­works that don’t tend to appear in text­books, sur­veys, or muse­um gift shops. Works, for exam­ple, like Joos van Craes­beeck­’s Hierony­mus Bosch-influ­enced The Temp­ta­tion of Saint Antho­ny, which show how seri­ous­ly Bosch’s con­tem­po­raries and fol­low­ers took his medieval “dia­b­leries”; and Kris­t­ian Zahrt­man­n’s 1894 paint­ing The Mys­te­ri­ous Wed­ding in Pis­toia. “Idolised” in his time, Zahrt­mann “man­aged to reju­ve­nate Dan­ish paint­ing in the ear­ly 20th cen­tu­ry” then sank into obscu­ri­ty. His work is now “the object of renewed inter­est — at the dawn of anoth­er new cen­tu­ry.”

While I hope our expe­ri­ence of art does not become pri­mar­i­ly vir­tu­al, we can be grate­ful for the oppor­tu­ni­ty to see — in ways we nev­er could before — the up-close hand­i­work of artists who can feel so far away from us even in the best of times. Enter the col­lec­tion here.

Relat­ed Con­tent: 

Google Puts Over 57,000 Works of Art on the Web

The Art Insti­tute of Chica­go Puts 44,000+ Works of Art Online: View Them in High Res­o­lu­tion

Down­load 586 Free Art Books from The Met­ro­pol­i­tan Muse­um of Art

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

by | Permalink | Comments (6) |

Sup­port Open Cul­ture

We’re hop­ing to rely on our loy­al read­ers rather than errat­ic ads. To sup­port Open Cul­ture’s edu­ca­tion­al mis­sion, please con­sid­er mak­ing a dona­tion. We accept Pay­Pal, Ven­mo (@openculture), Patre­on and Cryp­to! Please find all options here. We thank you!

Comments (6)
You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.
  • BF says:

    Would these high-res images of art work be con­sid­ered PUBLIC DOMAIN?
    …are peo­ple allowed to reuse them?

    Thank you.

  • Graham Wells says:

    I would think not for com­mer­cial pur­pos­es

  • Gloria Peters says:

    I believe the are now con­sid­ered as pub­lic domain byt then with restric­tions aboout re-using them indis­crim­i­nate­ly.

  • Paarlberg says:

    Per The Nation­al Gallery of Art “Images of these works are avail­able for down­load free of charge for any use, whether com­mer­cial or non-com­mer­cial.”

  • Rashid says:

    high qual­i­ty dig­i­tal pho­to art pieces fea­tur­ing a beau­ti­ful ” man ” with long blond hair, wear­ing beige Nike t‑shirt, blue hip-hop jeans, Air Force Nike sneak­ers, seat­ed atop a stone, styl­ized 3D trans­par­ent “Insta­gram ” pro­file page made of glass with the user­name ” Rashid ” on back­ground, char­ac­ter is sur­round­ed by flo­ral ele­ments, includ­ing flow­ers, small water­fall and pond with flu­o­res­cent mush­rooms, over­all design is min­i­mal­ist and aes­thet­ic, black back­ground with split Rem­brandt light­ing, shot on an ARRIFLEX 35 BL cam­era, high qual­i­ty res­o­lu­tion, high detal­iza­tion, no blur face

  • shhram says:

    چیجوری ازش استفاده کنم

Leave a Reply

Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.