Masterpieces from Spain’s Prado museum went on display in microscopic detail on Google Earth on Tuesday, in what was hailed as a first for a major international museum.
"This technological advance will provide access to the works to anyone from anywhere in the world," said Prado director Miguel Zugaza during an official presentation of the project.
Among the 14 canvases available for inspection online is Diego Velazquez’s "Las Meninas" depicting the Infanta Margarita and her courtiers, regarded as his greatest work and one of the best-known paintings at the two-centuries-old Prado.
Other works which art lovers can examine in detail from their computers are Francisco de Goya’s "El Tres de Mayo," Hieronymus Bosch’s triptych "The Garden of Earthly Delights" as well as painting by Rubens, Titian, Rembrandt and El Greco.
"This is the first time in the world that this is being done," said the head of the Spanish branch of US Internet giant Google, Javier Rodriguez Zapatero.
Other major museums like the Louvre in Paris allow Internet users to zoom in on their works but not with the same image quality as that provided by Google Earth, a virtual map programme that uses satellite information and photography
The Google Earth images have a resolution of 14,000 megapixels, about 1,400 times greater than a picture taken on a standard 10 megapixel camera. They where stitched together from thousands of high-resolution photographs of the paintings.
To view the masterpieces people must first install Google Earth which can be downloaded for free from the Google website although more advanced versions must be bought.
They will then be able to scan the surface of the canvases as if using a magnifying glass, capturing brush strokes as well as other details which would be impossible to see if they visited the gallery in person.
"A digital reproduction can not substitute an original work but it allows one to look at details that one could never see with the naked eye," said Zugaza.
The technology can be used at other museums but according to Google there are no plans for the moment to do so.
"I told myself that people who come to the Prado do not have the time or the possibility to admire the works as they would like to and I thought something should be done to allow the visit to be completed," said Clara Rivera of Google Earth.
The Prado displays some 1,400 paintings, mostly by Spanish masters. It is one of Madrid’s top tourist draws, attracting over two million visitors last year