This is a breath taking example of art and technology. Beautiful. Oh what stories this could tell.
In the 16th Century Hieronymus Bosch put paintbrush to canvass and conjured up The Garden of Earthly Delights. This magical, often maniacal, account of man hangs on a wall in the Prado in Madrid, Spain. It is a triptych representing heaven, earth and hell, offering visitors to the Prado a visual specter of the otherworldly and the perverse. Standing in front of the painting I remember being overwhelmed with Bosch’s fantastical detail. I stared until my eyes watered from the strain and my patience gave up with having to jostle for space. All the other tourists were obviously there to see it too. The postcard memento I purchased from the gallery shop at the end of my visit didn’t really do Bosch justice. The detail simply wasn’t there, the dynamism was gone.
I discovered this morning that with Google Earth I can now get fourteen of the Prado’s famous paintings – including The Garden of Earthly Delights – in high resolution detail on my computer. Bosch is back – along with the likes of other famous artists such as Francisco de Goya and Diego Velázquez. Google Earth allows you to scroll across, and zoom into, great works of art with amazing speed and detail. My perfectly sound vision could not pick out the cracks of paint like these cameras seem to be able to do. It was both fascinating and frightening (time for glasses?). Whilst nothing quite circumvents the aura of standing in front of a piece of art itself, it seems that the Prado’s partnership with Google Earth has evolved an entirely new, exciting and utterly democratic means by which to transmit great art across borders (making it literally ‘cross-cultural’). This is not static art that has been dusted out of the innards of some old and inevitably very expensive coffee-table tome, but rather interactive art which understands that appreciating a painting in real-time involves a physical not just visual relationship with space. With Google Earth you can now walk in to one of the Prado’s newest rooms – a virtual one. It seems that we might not all be able to book flights to Madrid (remember the recession, people), but we can now crane our necks to see, and all it takes is the click of a mouse.