There have been several famous art thieves throughout history. Vincenzo Peruggia stole the Mona Lisa back in 1911, Martin Cahill stole millions of dollars of painting in a single raid, and now Google has nabbed thousands of famous works of art. Of course, true to the Google spirit, this theft is almost entirely digital in nature, using the Google Street View technology to show off the contents of famous art museums in stunningly high resolution.
The Google announcement on the topic tells the story of how the project began. Google is famous for their “20% time” — a portion of each employee’s workday that’s reserved for that employee to work on their own innovative Google projects, essentially without limit. Several Googlers who had a special fondness for art decided to group their time together in an attempt to bring famous art to users in never before seen detail.
There were several existing technologies that were ideal for the project, including the Google App Engine, Picasa, and Street View. However, these items were also strongly limited. For example, “Street View” couldn’t go indoors — at least until it was completely reprogrammed by these Googlers in their 20% time.
Once the technology was ramped up, the team was able to create an image collection of over 1000 paintings from more than 400 artists, all pulling from work found in 17 of the world’s most famous museums. You can even take a virtual tour by using the Street View enhancements. The most impressive feature, however, is the stunningly high resolution of the images, which allows users to see details down to the paintbrush-stroke level. Enthusiasts will even be able to create their own “favorites” by establishing a collection on the site.
The project is now live, and can be seen at www.googleartproject.com.