Figure 1: Google Art Project view of the Metropolitan Museum of Art's Petrie Court

Figure 1: Google Art Project view of the Metropolitan Museum of Art's Petrie Court

Google Art Project


Many museums around the world have been working tirelessly to make their collections and even publications available online for the public. With the Google Art Project, Google’s Cultural Institute aimed to go one step beyond this by making the actual galleries virtually navigable online for anyone with an internet connection. Inspired by their own work on Google Street View, the team of engineers, who were self-proclaimed art enthusiasts, conceived of the project with the mission of condensing the Street View car technology to the hallway-friendly trolley.

While many museums were ahead of the Google Art Project in making imagery of their galleries and collections accessible, the engineers behind the project strove to enhance the concept incorporating extremely high-definition image quality into the pre-existing navigation system by incorporating extremely high-definition image quality—in effect you can zoom around and in like never before. Starting the project with 1,000 objects to view, the platform now provides overview and detail on 45,000 objects from over 250 institutions. The technology that inspired the project was Google’s own Street View capabilities, which was at first limited to areas only accessible by vehicle. As the technology was compressed, the indoor trolley allowed for this self-navigation feature to continue beyond solely car-navigable street. For a select number of major highlights, gigapixel technology—an image composed of one billion pixels—has been used to capture details even beyond the capabilities of the naked eye. In order to create an image of such high resolution, photographers can either stitch together a series of extreme high resolution captures or use an astronomical strength camera capable of capturing such high pixel detail in a single image.

From the homepage of the site, the viewer is able to search by collection, artist, artwork, or user group. The Collection tab shows works available from partnering institutions while the artwork tab lets the viewer browse all works based on medium, event, place, date, etc. When looking at an image, for example Botticelli’s Birth of Venus, there are a series of symbols, first to add the item to your personal collection, next to compare the work with another on the project, or lastly the share. (Figure 2).  On the image’s individual page, there are options to see a full description, any videos of the work, and a map of where the work resides (Figure 3). From here, you can zoom into the gigapixel picture, which gives the viewer unprecedented access to the minute detail of the work—a close look that would not be allowed in the gallery (Figure 4). On the top left, there is also the signature Google yellow man, which will lead to the gallery view of the work. It is from this feature that the viewer-powered virtual gallery tour makes the Google Art Project unique. While navigating the gallery through a series of arrows, the museum map is also visible to orient the viewer into a ‘real’ space, rather than a strictly virtual one. Without a curatorial vision but with far more technological capabilities, the Google Art Project differs in significant ways from a museum’s own website. 

Google produced behind-the-scene videos:


“Art Project.” Google Cultural Institute. Accessed November 30, 2015.

“Explore museums and great works of art in the Google Art Project.” Google Blog, February 1, 2011. Accessed November 30, 2015.