You may think Street View is an invasion of privacy, but today Google launches a more more benign use -- in fact it’s a great, fascinating, time-killing site called Art Project, in which major museums around the world have chosen artworks to be photographed so you can zoom in and see any section in extraordinary close-up. For what it’s worth, the technology is gigapixel, with each image containing 7 billion pixels; what that means in real life is that you can see the brushwork, highlights and cracking paint in any tiny section of some amazing works.
The Museum of Modern Art contributes van Gogh’s Starry Night; you can see where the paint is thick and where the canvas peeps through. The contemporary Tate Britain has Chris Ofili’s No Woman No Cry (shown below). The Uffizi, the Hermitage, and the Rijksmuseum are among the 17 museums contributing work.
Art Project's home page plays up the gigapixel works, but if you look harder, there’s much more. The drop-down menu for each museum offers a much broader selection you can also zoom in on, not gigapixel strength but still in exceptional close-up, offering a far more detailed view than you could get by elbowing your way through crowds.
A couple of the best choices: the Freer Gallery in Washington, D.C. offers a selection of Whistlers in addition to its gigapixel Princess From the Land of Porcelein (above) and of Asian art and delicate manuscripts that really need to be seen close-up. The Museo Reina Sofia in Madrid offers cubist works by Juan Gris and a selection of photographs from the Spanish Civil War by unknown photographers.
I wish there were more contemporary works and more photography here, but this is a great start.