Van Gogh, Rembrandt, Botticelli… browse through the works of your favourite artists by embarking on a virtual tour of top galleries through the Google-powered ‘Art Project'. Nithya Sivashankar tells you how

Seventeen museums and galleries. Thousands of works by Picasso, Rembrandt and other masters. Explore all this and more by just clicking on ‘Art Project' (powered by Google). This unique endeavour was born as a result of Google's collaboration with some of the world's finest art galleries. www.googleartproject.com allows one to take a virtual tour around galleries, view paintings in high resolution and create one's own art collection as well.

The homepage is simple and basic. A close-up view of a painting (which changes every time one refreshes the page) outlines a small window that contains a list of participating museums and galleries. You can walk around the courtyard in the Freer Gallery of Art (Smithsonian Institution) or gape at Ludovico Buti's battle scenes on the ceiling of a room in the Uffizi. Amble around in the Hall of Mirrors at the Palace of Versailles or make a date with the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood at Tate Britain. You can also take a breathtaking 360-degree tour of The Palacio de Cristal, Museo Reina Sofia.

Browse through a collection of paintings by famous and amateur artists. From Van Gogh's ‘The Starry Night' to Rembrandt's ‘The Return of the Prodigal Son' and Botticelli's masterpiece ‘The Birth of Venus', you can find it all on ‘Art Project'.

How it began

The credit for this wholesome visual journey goes to the Google Street View technology (also employed in Google Earth and Google Maps) that enables one to have a virtual experience of being in a particular place. The ‘behind-the-scenes footage' of the project is an interesting video that employs fast cutting (a film editing technique) to tell the story of how the project came into being. Technicians on Google Trikes (tricycles with cameras mounted on them) cycle around in corridors, rooms inside galleries and in courtyards to capture videos and images of museums. It is claimed that these cameras have a resolution of 12 giga pixels.

Once you choose a museum, you can either opt to explore it or view the artworks present in it. Art Project offers an interactive floor plan. It enables you to choose a room you would like to visit. Once you set foot in the room, you can read about it or the artworks it houses. You can also assimilate the history behind the gallery or watch videos related to the paintings.

Art Project allows you to zoom in to paintings with high resolution imagery and observe intricate details such as brush strokes and intensity of colours. If you are lucky, you may even discover secrets about paintings as the ‘Visitor Guide' video suggests. Audios and videos related to the artworks give an insight into restoration and research projects that are being carried out in the galleries. The ‘Viewing Notes', ‘Artwork History' and ‘Artist Information' options are of immense help to students of art.

Creating a collection

One of the best features of Art Project is the option of creating one's own art collection. The site instructs you to “sign in with your Google account, zoom and pan the artwork to the view you want to capture, add comments and save the view.” The artwork or the specific view of choice is now added to your collection. The link to your collection can be easily shared across social networking websites such as Google Buzz, Facebook or Twitter.

If these reasons don't sound convincing enough to make you want to visit the site, here's another interesting bit of trivia. Art Project was spearheaded by an Indian named Amit Sood.