By now, almost any self-respecting art institution has digitized some part of its collection. However, the design of the typical "virtual museum" frequently fails to rise above the level of a database intended more for administrative purposes. The artworks are often shown at low resolution if not in thumbnail format, precluding any meaningful experience on the part of internet navigators. Some museums have attempted to reach a wider audience by including custom-made content via some innovative presentation form.1 Others have assumed a wait-and-see attitude.
What is certain is that digitalization, which can no longer be postponed, raises existential questions for art institutions. How will the elevated costs of digitalization be recovered? Why go to a museum if you can enjoy the same artworks at your leisure on the nearest computer monitor? By overexposing works of art, will their "aura" be diminished, as Walter Benjamin predicted? Will paintings become "marketing instruments" in the hands of powerful museums? Furthermore, some institutions feel that the loss of the economic control over their intellectual property assets will erode their unquestioned authority as the custodians of the cultural value of the objects they possess and as gatekeepers of authenticity.
The most recent development in digital strategy of artworks of the past is the so-called "open content" policy pioneered by the Rijksmuseum, the Getty and the Washington National Gallery of Art. These forward-looking institutions provide not only free access to high-quality images of the objects in their collections of a level unthinkable only a few years ago, but have lifted any copyright restrictions whatsoever in the hopes of encouraging engagement of the general public with art and stimulating contemporary artistic production.
In regards to the Open Content Project recently launched by the Getty CEO Jim Cuno stated "The Getty was founded on the conviction that understanding art makes the world a better place, and sharing our digital resources is the natural extension of that belief," Thus, the move to offer high-quality images of their artworks free of copyright and fee is "an educational imperative. Artists, students, teachers, writers and countless others rely on artwork images to learn, tell stories, exchange ideas, and feed their own creativity." In any case, there is little doubt that technological innovation is reshaping the role and mission of museums as producers and distributors digital images exposing them contemporarily to threats and opportunities which are only now coming in to view.
Almost all of the institutions which house one or more Vermeer paintings have a website in which their Vermeer works are represented in some way. Some have allotted low quality images and minimum information while other, such as the Rijksmuseum, the Metropolitan of New York and the National Gallery of Washington provide navigators with in-depth information and spectacular high-resolution digital images. Furthermore, a few museum website few provide innovative tools for exploring art history such as timelines and essays on special topics. These sites have been signaled with four or five stars.
It is now possible to download, free of charge digital images of an increasing number of Vermeer paintings.
If you are traveling specifically to see one or more painting paintings by Vermeer, always contact the museum beforehand to be sure it is on display at the moment you plan to visit. Paintings are frequently on temporary loan or in restoration.
|New York Metropolitan Museum of Art||New York, U.S.A.|
|National Gallery of Art||Washington D.C., U.S.A.|
|National Gallery||London, England|
|Frick Collection||New York, U.S.A.|
|Musée du Louvre||Paris, France|
|Staatliche Museen Preußischer Kulturbesitz, Gemäldegalerie||Berlin, Germany|
|Staatliche Kunstsammlungen, Gemäldegalerie||Dresden, Germany|
|Städelsches Kunstinstitut||Frankfurt am Main, Germany|
|Herzog Anton Ulrich-Museum||Brunswick, Germany|
|Kunsthistorisches Museum||Vienna, Austria|
|National Gallery of Ireland||Dublin, Ireland|
|Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum (n.g.)||Boston, U.S.A.|
|Kenwood House||London, England|
|The Royal Collection, Buckingham Palace||London, England|
|National Gallery of Scotland||Edinburgh, Scotland|
|The Leiden Collection||New York, U.S.A.|
museum home page: http://www.rijksmuseum.nl/index.jsp?lang=en
With close to one million objects Amsterdam's Rijksmuseum is the largest museum of art and history in the Netherlands. It is perhaps best known for its collection of seventeenth-century Dutch masters, with twenty Rembrandts, four Vermeers and many other highlights of the period, including works by Frans Hals, Jan Steen and just about every significant Dutch seventeenth-century painter. Vermeer is represented with four absolute masterpieces: The Milkmaid, The Little House, The Love Letter, The Little Street and the Woman in Blue Reading a Letter.
In December 2003, the main building of the museum closed for a major renovation. The restoration and renovation were based on a project by the Spanish architects Antonio Cruz and Antonio Ortiz. Many of the old interior decorations were restored and the floors in the courtyards were removed. The renovation would have initially taken five years, but was delayed and eventually took almost ten years to complete. The renovation cost € 375 million. During the renovation, about 400 objects from the collection were on display in the "fragment building."
The reconstruction of the building was completed on 16 July, 2012. In March, 2013 the museum's main pieces of art were moved back from the "fragment building" to the main building. On 13 April, 2013, the main building was reopened by Queen Beatrix. During the reconstruction, the museum updated their website and began making a digital library of the entire collection and shaping a daring digital policy.
The Rijksmuseum website has been revamped again (by Fabrique), and this time, it seems, a bit for the worse. The website interface appears over-designed accenting browser aesthetics as much as art understanding. The new navigational system, which relies heavily on slide-up and slide-down panels, is responsive but the movement is jerky on some browsers.
On the bright side, high-resolution images of 125,000 objects (totaling 690 gigabytes) of the museum's vast collection can be downloaded onto one's hard disk (registration required) and shared, free of charge and copyright restrictions. The Rijksmuseum images are exceptionally detailed and well calibrated in color and contrast. However, the browser window interface is so cluttered with oversized navigation icons that the artworks themselves cannot be adequately appreciated. The zoom feature allows the user to draw incredibly close each work of art but the obtrusive icons persists. While the occasional visitor will be awed when zooming in on the mega-scan of the Woman in Blue Reading a Letter made after its recent restoration, he will remain disappointed when he downloads it only to discover a smaller image on his hard disk.
The image records for objects contain important information including basic object data, exhibition histories, provenance, related artworks, copyright status, and a section called "Documentation," which serves as a bibliography of the object with links to published references of the work including scholarly articles, monographs and exhibition catalogs. When online content is available, the object data includes links—for example, links to JSTOR articles. Users can also register with the site to access the Rijksstudio API, with metadata for 111,000 of the site's images.
Other than the usual simple and advanced search function, the contents of the museum can also be searched by color. Located beneath the high-resolution images is a bar of six colors, statistically typical each artwork. By clicking on one of the colors, the navigator will access objects in the museum's collection that supposedly possess an abundance of that color with however, no distinction between period, maker, place or function of the objects returned.
Aiming at "democratizing" its collection and promoting creativity, the Rijksmuseum invites users to create their own Rijksstudio and with the help of some simple online tools, collect favorite works of art and transform them into "products." Users can have prints made of entire works of art or details from them. Other suggestions for the use of images include creating material to upholster furniture or wallpaper, tattoos or to decorate a car or an iPad cover. The results can be shared with the Rijksmuseum. As Taco Dibbits, the director of Collections, said at the launch of Rijksstudio, "We believe in the strength of our masterpieces. We also believe that they belong to everyone, and that there is an artist in all of us."
It may be questioned if gearing the Rijksmuseum website to the touch-and-go and do-it-yourself mentality will have the long term effect of diluting rather than promoting the values of art and of this astounding collection. In any case, the open content policy is highly commendable and the downloadable images alone offer users good reason to return many times to the Rijksmuseum website..
museum home page: http://http://www.metmuseum.org/home.asp
In late 2011, the Metropolitan launched an updated website. As of January 2013, more than 540,000 images have been posted of which 398,000 are high resolution, all available for personal and educational uses. The museum's vast website provides the serious navigator with a wealth of online resources. A simple search for "Netherlands" returns 4,905 results.
The museum dedicates a page to each of its five Vermeers. Each work is represented by a high-resolution image accompanied by notes on signatures, inscriptions and markings, provenance, exhibition history and an exhaustive list of references, indispensable for in-depth art historical research. Each Vermeer image can be explored in detail via a responsive zoom feature or downloaded onto the user's hard disk although at maximum resolution they appear slightly blurred when compared to images of analogous resolutions of the J. Paul Getty Collection and the Rijksmusuem. The Metropolitan's images are subject to copyright and fees are charged for commercial uses. See terms and conditions.
The website also features a Timeline of Art History that can be used with profit. Together with the National Gallery of Art (Washington D.C.), the Metropolitan website can now be considered the most useful among those museums with Vermeer paintings.
The Timeline of Art History is a chronological, geographical and thematic exploration of the history of art from around the world, as illustrated especially by the Metropolitan Museum of Art's collection. The Museum's curatorial, conservation and education staff-the largest team of art experts anywhere in the world-research and write the Timeline, which is an invaluable reference and research tool for students, educators, scholars and anyone interested in the study of art history and related subjects. First launched in 2000, the Timeline now extends from prehistory to the present day. The Timeline will continue to expand in scope and depth, and also reflect the most up-to-date scholarship.
website home page: http://http://www.nga.gov/content/ngaweb.html
The National Gallery is an American museum of art, part of the federally operated Smithsonian Institution system, located at the east end of the Mall, Washington, D.C. It was founded in 1937 when the financier and philanthropist Andrew W. Mellon donated to the government a collection of paintings by European masters and a large sum of money to construct the gallery's Neoclassical building, which was designed by the architect John Russell Pope and opened in 1941.
The National Gallery now houses a very extensive collection of European and American paintings, sculpture, decorative arts and graphic works from the twelfth to the 20th century. The museum has especially rich holdings of works by Italian Renaissance painters, as well as by Dutch and Spanish Baroque and French Rococo artists.
The website of the NGA has been recently revamped and is now, perhaps, the most useful website among those museums which house one or more works by Vermeer.
The new design is exceptionally clean: nothing that gets in the way of the user and the works of art. Navigation is intuitive and responsive.
With the launch of NGA Images, the National Gallery of Art has adopted a forward-looking open access policy for digital images of works of art that the Gallery believes to be in the public domain. Images of these works are available free of charge for any use: commercial or non-commercial. Users do not need to contact the Gallery for authorization to use these images in any way. This policy is currently adopted by the Rijksmuseum and the J. Paul Getty Museum as well.
Users can currently download images up to 1,200 pixels long without registration. Downloading higher-resolution images of up to 3,000 pixels currently requires a simple registration process. The National Gallery plans to eliminate this registration as part of the next phase of NGA Images because it is considered an unnecessary step and a potential barrier to access. In the first six
months of NGA Images, there were more than 104,000 downloads of images.
Each of the museum's four Vermeer's is accompanied by an in-depth conservation notes, exhibition history, provenance and exhaustive bibliography.
museum home page: http://www.nationalgallery.org.uk/default.htm
The National Gallery of Art in London, one of the most extraordinary collections of European art in the world, houses the national collection of Western European painting: over 2,300 pictures dating from 1250 to 1900 including two Vermeers: A Lady Standing at a Virginal and A Lady Seated at a Virginal. Some critics believe that these two paintings were intended as pendants. The gallery's website has a number of very interesting features and navigators may also subscribe to a newsletter.
In 2009, National Gallery of London launched of their new website, powered by our leading Web Content Management System Amaxus. The new site showcases the National Gallery's extensive permanent collection, enabling visitors to examine every masterpiece in outstanding detail via a full-screen zoom option.
The Gallery's website is well designed and geared, for better or worse like many websites of major public art institutions, more to the uninitiated than the scholar.
One web page is dedicated to each of Vermeer's two works in the collection. A Lady Standing at a Virginal and A Lady Seated at a Virginal can be viewed with a responsive zoom feature in minute detail. The drawing of each of the tiny square baseboard Delft tiles of A Lady Standing with representations of children at play, a cupid and a boat can be made out and the audacious handling of the veins on the marble floor tiles cannot be missed.
Although the National Gallery features a well designed zoom interface that allows each work of art to be viewed in impressive detail, the restrictive image policy prohibits users from downloading the images onto their hard disks. The integral images may be only downloaded through the National Gallery website after registration and a fee which is calculated according to the image's dimensions and usage. Moreover, notwithstanding the Gallery's sophisticated digital image program, the color and contrast of their images appears spent when compared to the brilliant images of the Rijksmuseum.
In collaboration with other museums, universities and commercial enterprises, the National Gallery of London has developed a new, large-format digital camera, the MARC II (not to be confused with mass market cameras of the same name), which is capable of making images up to 20,000 x 20,000 pixels.
After five years of development, the former tungsten halogen photographic lamps which were used for illumination were replaced by new, brighter HMI lights that produce less that emits light that approximates optimal light temperature of c.6500 K, recommended by the Commission Internationale de l'Eclairage.
The National Gallery developed its own user interface to control the camera's settings and the storage of images. The Gallery's workflow now permits from 6 to 7 paintings a day to be digitally photographed, far more than the hundred or so per year at the time the project was initiated. Aside from the staff needed for photography and image storage, a special laboratory was built on the lower floors of the gallery and the members of Art Handling Staff was increased to handle the constant transportation to and from the gallery and laboratory. All paintings which are photographed had to be returned to the gallery before the end of the day.
Today, National Gallery Company Online Picture Library files are derived from fully colour-calibrated digital image files created by The National Gallery (London).
Each image of the National Gallery of London is consistent with any other, meaning that informed comparisons about color, tone and brightness can be made by the users of the images to ensure consistent production to print.
Each image has been individually calibrated using the Gretag Macbeth 24-patch color rendition chart. This enables any inconsistencies in lighting to be corrected for each painting and ensures that the quality of the last image captured is as high as the first.
Moreover, the National Gallery's full-screen zoom feature counts as one of the easiest to use.