Google's been hard at work over the past 18 months on something not many of us have been paying attention to lately: art. Specifically, the search giant has hooked up with 17 art museums around the world to offer tours of their internal galleries, using its familiar Street View tricycles, while also doing high-res images of 1,061 artworks that may be viewed on the newly launched Art Project web portal. Also there, you will find 17 special gigapixel images -- 7,000-megapixel versions of each participating venue's proudest possession. The resulting level of detail is nothing short of astounding and we've got videos of how it's all done after the break.
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Google and museums around the world unveil Art Project

LONDON, Tuesday 1st February. Today Google unveiled the Art Project, a unique collaboration with some of the world's most acclaimed art museums to enable people to discover and view more than a thousand artworks online in extraordinary detail.

Over the last 18 months Google has worked with 17 art museums including, Altes Nationalgalerie, The Freer Gallery of Art Smithsonian, National Gallery (London), The Frick Collection, Gemäldegalerie, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, MoMA, Museo Reina Sofia, Museo Thyseen - Bornemisza, Museum Kampa, Palace of Versailles, Rijksmuseum, The State Hermitage Museum, State Tretyakov Gallery, Tate, Uffizi and Van Gogh Museum. The results of this partnership, which can be explored at www.googleartproject.com involved taking a selection of super high resolution images of famous artworks, as well as collating more than a thousand other images into one place. It also included building 360 degree tours of individual galleries using Street View 'indoor' technology.

With this unique project, anyone anywhere in the world will be able to learn about the history and artists behind a huge number of works, at the click of a mouse.

Each of the museums has worked in extensive collaboration with Google, providing expertise and guidance on every step of the project, from choosing which collections to feature; to advising on the best angle to capture photos; to what kind of information should accompany the artwork.

Works of art included in the project range from Botticelli's 'Birth of Venus' to Chris Ofili's 'No Woman, No Cry', Cezanne's post impressionist works to Byzantine iconography. From the ceilings of Versailles to ancient Egyptian temples, a collection of Whistlers to Rembrandts all over the globe. In total, 486 artists from around the world have been included.

Key features:

Explore museums with Street View technology: using this feature, people can move around the gallery virtually on www.googleartproject.com, selecting works of art that interest them and clicking to discover more or diving into the high resolution images, where available. The info panel allows people to read more about an artwork, find more works by that artist and watch related YouTube videos.

A specially designed Street View 'trolley' took 360 degree images of the interior of selected galleries which were then stitched together, enabling smooth navigation of over 385 rooms within the museums. The gallery interiors can also be explored directly from within Street View in Google Maps.

Super high resolution feature artworks: each of the 17 museums selected one artwork to be photographed in extraordinary detail using super high resolution or 'gigapixel' photo capturing technology. Each such image contains around 7 billion pixels, enabling the viewer to study details of the brushwork and patina beyond that possible with the naked eye. Hard to see details suddenly become clear such as the tiny Latin couplet which appears in Hans Holbein the Younger's 'The Merchant Georg Gisze'. Or the people hidden behind the tree in Ivanov's 'The Apparition of Christ to the People'.

In addition, museums provided images for a selection totalling more than 1000 works of art. The resolution of these images, combined with a custom built zoom viewer, allows art-lovers to discover minute aspects of paintings they may never have seen up close before, such as the miniaturized people in the river of El Greco's 'View of Toledo', or individual dots in Seurat's 'Grandcamp, Evening.'

Create your own collection:
The 'Create an Artwork Collection' feature allows users to save specific views of any of 1000+ artworks and build their own personalised collection. Comments can be added to each painting and the whole collection can then be shared with friends and family. It's an ideal tool for students or groups to work on collaborative projects or collections.

Nelson Mattos, VP Engineering, Google
'The last 20 years have transformed and democratised the world of art - with better access to museums in many countries and a proliferation of public artworks. We're delighted to have been able to collaborate with leading art museums around the world to create this state of the art technology. We hope it will inspire ever more people, wherever they live, to access and explore art - in new and amazing levels of detail."

Amit Sood, Head of Art Project, Google
'This initiative started as a '20% project' by a group of Googlers passionate about making art more accessible online. Together with our museum partners around the world we have created what we hope will be a fascinating resource for art-lovers, students and casual museum goers alike - inspiring them to one day visit the real thing.'

Find out even more about Art Project on YouTube.