Next time you want to get yourself some culture, you won't need to battle the crowds at a museum. You won't even need to leave the house.
Google today announced its Art Project, which lets users tour 17 of the world's top art museums -- virtually.
Using Google's Street View technology, art lovers can digitally roam the halls of New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Tate Britain of London, the Uffizi Gallery in Florence, and many other of the art world's great art houses.
Panoramic views let users explore the museums without buying a plane ticket to Europe or the United States, and high-resolution images of more than 1,000 masterpieces make it possible to zoom in to study the details.
"The last 20 years have transformed and democratized 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," said Nelson Mattos, Google's vice president of engineering, in a statement. "We hope it will inspire ever more people, wherever they live, to access and explore art -- in new and amazing levels of detail."
The project also lets its virtual visitors curate their own online collections of art. With the "create an artwork collection feature," visitors can save their favorite pieces of art, add their own comments and share the collections with family and friends.
Amit Sood, the head of the Art Project, said in a press release that the effort was started by art-loving Googlers who wanted to make 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," Snoot said.
At the moment, the Louvre in Paris is not listed among the partners, so there's no studying the Mona Lisa's famous smile. But other notable works of art include Botticelli's "Birth of Venus" and Vincent Van Gogh's "Starry Night." Google Art Project includes 486 artists from around the world.
But even though these masterpieces can now be viewed online, museum directors hope people still plan to look at these masterworks in person.
Julian Raby, director of the Smithsonian Freer Gallery of Art and the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, said in a statement "The giga-pixel experience brings us very close to the spirit and energy of the artist through breathtaking detail that often can't be seen in the gallery itself.
Google Art Project adds a dimension to the larger museum experience -- one it hopes will inspire people around the world to go in search of the 'real thing.'"