Long a satisfactory procrastination aid at work, school or home, Google Earth allows users to soar above cities and countries, oceans and deserts. Now, Google is teaming up with Spain's Prado Museum to bring armchair tourists access to 14 of Spain's most treasured works of art, including works by Francisco de Goya, Diego Vel??Â¡zquez and Hieronymus Bosch-all in stunningly high-resolution detail.
Google Earth's technology allows users to get close enough to examine a painter's brushstrokes or the craquelure (small cracks) on the varnish of a painting. The images of these works are about 14,000 million pixels, 1,400 times more detailed than the image a 10-megapixel digital camera would take. "There is no better way to pay tribute to the great masters of the history of art than to universalize knowledge of their works using optimum conditions," Prado Director Miguel Zugaza told the Associated Press.
While crowded galleries and long lines can make visiting a museum a hassle for some, does the ability to zoom in on microscopic details that even the naked eye can't see provide an equally fulfilling experience? Clara Rivera, the brainchild of the collaboration, says no. "There is nothing comparable to standing before any of these paintings, but this offers a complementary view," Rivera told the AP. "Normally you have to stand a good distance away from these works, but this offers you the chance to see details that you could only see from a big ladder placed right beside them."
The paintings seen on Google Earth were stitched together using 8,200 photographs, combined with Google Earth's zoom-in technology, the AP reported. The project ran from May to July of 2008. Google also provides a 3-minute video detailing the methods used to capture the paintings on camera, which can be found here. Google also rendered the outside of the museum in striking three-dimensional detail, which can be found by clicking the "3D Buildings" option on the sidebar and then zooming from space down to the Iberian Peninsula, where a small, Scrabble-like tile with the words "Museo Nacional Del Prado" will guide users the rest of the way.
In addition to offering high-quality images, Google Earth also offers information about each of the 14 paintings, including the date it was painted, the technique, the subject and other interesting facts. Perhaps the most famous painting found in Google Earth's Prado collection is Francisco de Goya's "The 3rd of May 1808 in Madrid: The Executions on Principe Pio Hill," painted in 1814. The work depicts the execution of patriots from Madrid by a firing squad from Napoleon's army.
Artist David Hockney once said this painting helps explain why photography could never depict truth-in this case, the horror of war-as well as oil and canvas does. One wonders how he would feel, looking at de Goya's masterpiece in unsurpassed photographic detail.