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  HOME | Arts & Entertainment

Prado Museum: Digital Democratization as Google Brings High Definition Prado Masterpieces To You

By Mila Trenas

MADRID -- The saying that "a picture is worth a thousand words" was never truer than in a joint project launched by Google and the Prado Museum that allows 14 masterpieces belonging to the Spanish gallery's collection to be viewed in mega high resolution via Internet.

The project, dubbed "Masterworks of the Prado on Google Earth," will allow details of the paintings to be seen that the human eye cannot perceive directly, while the Prado becomes the first international museum making it possible to study reproductions of its paintings that are life-sized and more.

The sewing of the canvas of "Las Meninas" by Velazquez, the hidden details in "The Garden of Earthly Delights" by Hieronymus Bosch, the almost imperceptible tears of St. John in "Descent from the Cross" by Roger van der Weyden and the bee that has landed on a flower in "The Three Graces" by Peter Paul Rubens are suddenly as big as life.

The project also provides the possibility of viewing a full-sized version of Titian's "The Emperor Charles V, on Horseback, in Mühlberg."

Completing the list of 14 masterpieces are "The Crucifixion" by Juan de Flandes, "The Nobleman with his Hand on his Chest" by El Greco, "Jacob's Dream" by Ribera, "Third of May" by Goya, "The Annunciation" by Fra Angelico, "The Cardinal" by Rafael, "The Immaculate Conception" by Tiepolo, Albrecht Dürer's "Self Portrait" and "Artemis" by Rembrandt.

The selection of these works concurs with the aim stated by the Prado Museum on its Web site - they are essential works from an educational point of view since they represent all the schools in the museum's collection.

That was explained during the presentation by the Prado's director, Miguel Zugaza, who believes that a choice of any of the Prado's other 1,000 works would have been equally valid.

Although these images are no substitute for seeing the works of art directly, "the degree of quality makes the works universal and captures details invisible when seen directly," he said.

The Prado's director also said that there is no better way to pay tribute to art's greatest masters than by making their works universal.

Making them universal is one of the goals of the project but also, "beyond our delight in the images," Zugaza wanted to stress their importance to research and teaching, enriching both of these areas.

The extraordinary precision achieved "allows us to observe the details of restorations carried out, as well as offering us the extraordinary pleasure of being able to contemplate each bit of a work of such incredible complexity as "The Garden of Earthly Delights," Zugaza said.

He surmised with some amusement that Goya and Velazquez "would be terrified" by the discovery of such precision, but added that "they would be as fascinated as we are."

By means of digital images, "we see a scientific dissection, although we won't be able to contemplate the painting's soul as we do in a direct contemplation of the work," the director said, adding that the future of museums will be closely linked to new technologies and new forms of communication.

The project, the only one of its kind in the world, was described by Javier Rodriguez Zapatero, director of Google Spain, as "one more advance in the democratization of access to information and culture, in this case bringing art to everyone."

With no cost to the Prado, the project, which could be enlarged depending on its acceptance, allows the viewing of images with close to 14,000 megapixels and a precision 1,400 times greater than could be obtained with a digital camera of 10 megapixels.

Click here to see the daily picture in Google Maps High Definition.

Click here to see all 14 pictures in Google Earth Ultra High Resolution.

To Download Google Earth, Click Here. Once you download it, locate Spain on the map and you will see the Prado Museum as an option (Alternately, type Prado into the "Fly To" window). Click on it and you will be able to see all 14 pictures in ultra high resolution and enlarge them to study them in minute detail. (Editor's Note: Our personal favorite: Heironymous Bosch, The Garden of Earthly Delights).

Click here to watch a video of the program in action and on the minute digitalization of the masterpieces.


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