January 13, 2009 Leave a comment
Although the interface is a little maddening, if you search for “Museo del Prado” in Google Earth and then click on the square icon, you’re in.
You can view super-high-resolution digital reproductions of the genius works of art, such as Raphael’s El Cardinal (above), that form the highlights of the collection assembled by the great Spanish kings.
The screengrabs you see here are only faint copies of the incredible images you can easily view and manipulate using the Google Earth interface.
Nothing can reproduce the feeling of seeing these paintings surrounded by other masterpieces of the same artist or time period, but this comes pretty damn close.
Velazquez’s self-portrait in Las Meninas can be zoomed in on to such a degree that you can examine the red cross on his chest – supposedly painted on by the king himself after the artist’s death, in order to record Velazquez’ posthumous ascent to nobility. It can be truly differentiated from the brushstrokes beneath. Sweet.
Rogier van der Weyden’s Descent from the Cross is a showstopper. The level of intricate, realistic detail in this painting is astounding. The colors are vibrant and powerful. The tears, the stubble, the veins beneath the skin…that’s skill, friends!
Durer’s Self Portrait is another classic in the Prado collection, and like many of the other paintings it demonstrates the reach of the Spanish empire at its height. Since Spain controlled the Holy Roman Empire and most of Europe for about a century (see Habsburg Spain), the collection of Northern European art from that era is superb.
This painting was a great candidate for super-high-resolution reproduction – the details in the hair and the mountain scene in the background look fantastic when zoomed way in.
As great as all these paintings are – and really the entire Google Earth catalog is vital, including great works by Titian, Goya and El Greco, one painting provides the best argument for battling the horrible interface to check out the Prado’s collection:
The bizarre, terrifying, hilarious, confusing, totally unique Garden of Earthly Delights by Hieronymus Bosch!
This triptych, painted in 1503 or 1504 in the Netherlands, features three curious and magical scenes. The level of detail built into each panel is mind-boggling.
The ability to really zoom in and check out the details is HUGE for this painting, because doing so in person at the museum isn’t particularly feasible. Many of the most interesting elements are tiny, so you have to get up close to check them out. However, it’s one of the most popular pieces in the museum, so that isn’t doable unless you don’t give a care to pissing off your fellow tourists.
Thanks to Google Earth, we can take a closer look.
On the left, we see what must be the Garden of Eden, featuring a scene with God, Adam and Eve, and many amazing depictions of flourishing animal life…and could that be evolution?
The Christ-like depiction of the Old Testament God is an interesting theological call, to say the least…
Anyway, the central panel is the largest and features a dizzying cavalcade of really strange images. This ostensibly represents the chaos of earth, the Garden of the painting’s title…or maybe not.
Nobody knows what this painting is about, exactly.
And again, it’s weird.
Awesome party of all animal-kind, or freak show to end all freakshows? Kind of both.
Now we come to the true payoff.
The right-hand panel portrays one of the most graphic and creative versions of Hell from the medieval era.
For a long time it was believed that Bosch was trying to draw a really complex allegory, but scholars now think that in medieval times this kind of nightmare was pretty much what people believed was gonna happen in Hell.
And now you can discover the details for yourself.
It’s tough enough to get in close enough to scope out all the cool details in the other panels when viewing this painting at the Prado.
But nobody wants to be the freak pressing his eyeballs against the horrifying hell panel.
In the privacy of your own home, you can peruse every inch of this ingeniously hellish vision without anyone judging you!
OK seriously now. What on EARTH is going on in the image above??!?!?!
Google Earth must have crashed 20 times as we were screengrabbing these images…in all likelihood this was some kind of security mechanism. But we persevered.
Keep in mind that these images are not nearly as high quality as what you will see in Google Earth…
The fact is that the Prado is one of the world’s greatest museums, and they are truly to be commended for putting the best of their collection online like this.
Here’s hoping more museums follow suit.