News Column

Google Seeks 'Mona Lisa' for Online Art Tour

April 12, 2012

Gwen Ackerman

Mona lisa

Google has expanded its virtual tours to more than 150 of the world's major museums, adding high-resolution close-ups of masterworks by Van Gogh, Rembrandt and Botticelli - but not the "Mona Lisa."

The latest additions that went online this month include the Musee d'Orsay in Paris and Jerusalem's Israel Museum. The Louvre in the French capital, home of the Da Vinci masterpiece, isn't taking part in the website, dubbed Art Project.

Internet browsers can tour galleries from 40 countries as they would neighborhoods on Google Street View. Google is seeking more new partners in the United States, Europe and emerging markets. It says the service won't generate revenue, including through advertising, though it gives no figures.

"Everyone asks me if we have Leonardo's 'Mona Lisa,'" Amit Sood, who heads the project, said at a news briefing in Paris. "We're talking to people from the Louvre. Maybe they'll be part of the next phase."

A spokeswoman for the Louvre, the world's most visited museum which says it hosted 8.8 million people last year, declined to comment.

The Israel Museum has put the Dead Sea Scrolls online, and they were seen by 1 million visitors from more than 200 countries in about three days. The next step in collaboration was "almost a marriage of the moment," said James Snyder, director of Israel Museum.

Among the museum's items online is the interior of an 18th- century Italian Vittoria Veneto Synagogue and some of Claude Monet's water lilies. The French announcement was made in Orsay, with its Monet-filled walls.

"Google is committed to bringing art and culture online and making them universally accessible," said Yossi Matias, managing director of Google's R&D center in Israel.

The site started in February 2011 with works from the Tate Britain, New York's Museum of Modern Art and 15 others from nine countries. More than 40 museums have now allowed Google to digitalize one artwork at a resolution of 7 billion pixels, or 1,000 times the average digital camera.

The Mountain View, Calif.-based Internet company has sent robot- like devices equipped with cameras to roll around museums from Sao Paulo to Istanbul over the past year, snapping pictures of as many as 30,000 works.

"Out of pure coincidence, we've reunited the three versions of Vincent Van Gogh's 'The Bedroom' in one place," said Sood, who came up with the idea for Art Project 2 1/2 years ago and now heads a team of seven people in London, including former employees of the Met and the Tate.

By striking deals only with the museums and not with artists, their heirs nor foundations, Google avoids dealing with copyright issues, Sood said. The company included image security technology in the database to protect the photos.

Source: (C) 2012 Charleston Daily Mail.