The difference between viewing an artwork in person versus on a screen is vast, but the Google Cultural Institute is trying to close that gap with a new camera that can easily capture every brush stroke. "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," reads the Google blog post announcing the Art Camera, which can quickly and easily take gigapixel images of a painting, revealing even more than the naked eye can see.
The Google Cultural Institute has already captured 200 works by the likes of Picasso and van Gogh, but the process was clunky, requiring a lot of time, expensive special equipment, and specialists to operate it. The Art Camera uses robotics and sensors to streamline that process. Google will be sending the cameras to museums all over the world, free of charge. The goal is to democratize the museum-going experience, so anyone with an internet connection can read the hidden information in the details of these masterworks.
No online experience, no matter how far you can zoom in, will be the same as standing next to a painting, seeing its scale, viewing its texture from different angles, breathing its air. But the Google Cultural Institute approach offers a unique vantage as well. "Millions of people spend time exploring our ultra-high resolution 'gigapixel' images, inch by inch—spotting something new every time, like a hidden signature or the individual dabs of paint that give the impression of shimmering, turbulent waters," reads the post. Aside from viewing hidden details, this archive offers the chance to view works that are physically miles apart. Van Gogh's six portraits of the Roulin family are spread across Europe, New York, and Los Angeles, but captured with the new Art Camera, anyone can cross-reference their varying brushstrokes and usages of light at a moment's notice.