Like all those who love culture, I like to travel and visit historical sites, castles, and museums. To support my passion, I gathered in time an entire library of guides, atlases, albums and catalogs for all the places I love and that I like to visit them occasionally. A few years ago I was particularly pleased when I discovered a Website that allowed me not only to meet again places and famous galleries but also to explore museums beauties where I’m not sure I can get. At the time, the Google Cultural Institute’s site was called Google Arts Project, providing access to over 100 museums, collections, attractions and famous places around the world. And this was amazing.
On June 19th this year, Google Cultural Institute just announced the new Google Arts & Culture website and app. Available on iOS and Android, the new app helps us explore the digital heritage of the World. Like the well know search engine, Googles’ new art & culture portal let us explore anything from the cats in art since 200 BCE to how is used red color in Expressionism or learn about Monet’s 50 shades of gray. And this is wonderful.
A project history
5 years ago, Google Cultural Institute announced Arts Project, a Website collection which lets users browse most famous collections with thousands of works of art, available online in extraordinary detail. Using existing solutions like Picasa and App Engine, a Google enthusiastic team managed by Amit Sood developed a new virtual museum walking indoor technology based on Google Street View. The project is one of the amazing results of “20-percent time”, an internal initiative released by Google by which employees were encouraged to spend 20% of their time working on an innovative project of large interest.
In 2011, the releasing moment, the Arts Project Website offered virtual walking access inside 17 of the world’s famous art museums, including The Metropolitan Museum of Art and MoMA in New York, The State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, Tate Britain & The National Gallery in London, Museo Reina Sofia in Madrid, the Uffizi Gallery in Florence and Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam.
The difference between Google Arts Project and many other Website art collections is described in an interview by Amit Sood, initiator and manager of Arts Project, and director of Google Cultural Institute from 2013: “The difference between this and a lot of other websites is that every single image is in extremely high resolution, as well as enriched with a whole host of tools and metadata. For example, you look at a museum’s Vermeer, zoom into it, compare it with another one, and then take a virtual walk through the museum by using our street view technology.”
How technologies develop digital culture
With new clothes, the popular site of Google Cultural Institute is already known by art lovers. But fewer knows are the technologies that facilitate our virtual walk through the galleries of the most famous museums in the world.
Between first innovations adopted by Google Arts Project was the indoor version of Google Street View camera. This 360-degree system was essential to capture gallery images by pushing the camera ‘trolley’ through a museum. Street View was also integrated with GPS location capture, and with Picasa, to enable a seamless transition from gallery view to microscope view. To take high-resolution photos of the artworks within a gallery were also used professional panoramic heads Clauss Rodeon VR Head HD and Clauss VR Head ST. Finally, the Art Project has been integrated with Google’s social media platform (Google+) to enable users to share their personal collections with their networks.
A series of new technologies was introduced in the last period to enhance the cultural experience of the digital visitors. Google Cardboard is already a popular virtual reality application based on the same name viewer. Few people know this quite simple device was created by David Coz and Damien Henry from Google Cultural Institute in Paris, as part of the same “20 percent time” initiative with the aim of inspiring a more low-cost model for VR development. Cardboard tours are available at this moment for 20 locations, including the Valley of Temples.
Worldwide digital heritage images capture and storage are possible due to a special Art Camera system developed by Google to capture the finest details of museums and collections artworks. The Art Camera is a robotic camera, custom-built to create gigapixel images faster and more easily. A robotic system steers the camera automatically from detail to detail, taking hundreds of high-resolution close-ups of the painting. A laser and a high precision distance sonar system are used to make sure the focus is right on each brush stroke. A software application brings thousands of close-up shots into one single gigapixel image.
Using Art Camera system, Google Cultural Institute added in a very short time more than 1,000 ultra-high-resolution images of classic paintings and other artwork by Monet, Van Gogh and many others. Previously, Google’s collection included only about 200 digitizations, realized in five years of photo capture efforts.
Another digital facility introduced by Google Cultural Institute is the Art Recognizer, an experimental new feature that helps visitors learn more about the art they’re looking. Recognizer app works by pointing the phone’s camera on any art object. Google’s software recognizes the work and provides to user phone encyclopedic multimedia information about the artist and his masterpiece. The major distinction between Art Recognizer and other audio tours is that it doesn’t require visitors to follow a prescribed path through the museum. The Beta version of Art Recognizer is now available at London’s Dulwich Picture Gallery, Sydney’s Art Gallery of New South Wales and the National Gallery of Art in Washington DC.
A tip for those who love Loire Valley
If you like to travel in France and if you love the Valley of the Kings, here is a link where you precisely will enjoy…
The Loire Castles selection proposed by Google Arts & Culture let us explore in online exhibits, virtual tours, videos and thousands of high-quality images all the historical places between Sully-sus-Loire and ancient fortress from Angers, including the royal Loire’s jewels from Amboise, Blois, Chambord, and Chenonceau.
Enjoy all of these!