The British Museum Just Made 1.9M Stunningly Detailed Images Free Online

BY Becky Ferreira

Quarantine is making some people a little stir-crazy. That’s why the British Museum announced a “major revamp” of its digital collection on Tuesday including making nearly 1.9 million images free to use for anyone under a Creative Commons 4.0 license.

While it is not possible to wander through this iconic museum right now, as it remains closed due to Covid-19, the update offers an opportunity to virtually tour its immense collection of artifacts and artwork.

“We are delighted to be able to unveil this major revamp early, and hope that these important objects can provide inspiration, reflection or even just quiet moments of distraction during this difficult time.”

-Hartwig Fischer, director of the museum

In addition to making nearly two million images available to the public the museum has added enhanced views of important artifacts that reveal details that would not be observable even if you visited the exhibits in person.

The museum plans to expand the number of key artifacts that users can examine in close-up views over the coming weeks and months. As part of the revamp, the museum also released nearly 300,000 images for the first time.

The collection is an edifying way to escape from all the pandemic news or explore how past cultures approached similar challenges. When I entered the keyword “plague” into the database, I found a 1783 satirical illustration subtitled “the Birth of the Plagues of England.”

The search also turned up more serious depictions of past outbreaks, such as the above print of the Plague of Athens in which people are clearly not abiding by any social distancing measures.

The keyword “quarantine” turned up this sketch of ships undergoing isolation protocols in 18th century Malta, and “isolation” led to a lithograph that shows the exact opposite of a face mask (to that point, there are thousands of examples in the collection).

We’re all looking forward to being able to visit our old local haunts, or indulge in trips to museums and other attractions around the world. But in the meantime, the British Museum’s digital collection can deliver the culture fix you might be craving.

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