A 14th-century religious painting, rich with gold leaf, is highlighted in a new digital archiving partnership between the New Orleans Museum of Art and Google.
“Madonna and Child with Saints,” from the Samuel H. Kress Collection, was an ideal centerpiece for the project, which adds 75 NOMA artworks to the Google Cultural Institute’s online archive, said Seth Boonchai, the museum’s digital asset manager.
“The work is very popular,” he said. “Also, we chose the Kress Collection because it contains a number of works that are very small and delicate.”
NOMA officials announced the launch of the archive, about two years in the making, Thursday.
Not everyone is able to visit an art museum, but today, anyone with a smartphone can see great works of art from every corner of the world, museum Director Susan Taylor said.
“We have no intention of replacing the visitor experience, but research shows that making art available online encourages visitors,” she said.
A few months ago, a team from Google’s Gigapixel Project spent more than eight hours in the Kress gallery, photographing the 600-year-old “Madonna and Child with Saints,” by Bernardo Daddi, in minute detail.
The photos — at least 100,000 of them, Boonchai said — were used to create an ultra-high-resolution image of the painting that allows online visitors to zoom in on every crack and brush mark.
Museum curators wrote up information about the figures in the work, from the infant Jesus to St. Benedict, along with background about its origins in the chapel of a wealthy family in 1340s Florence.
Nowadays, the public expects to be able to see at least some of a museum’s collection online, Taylor said. Using grants and other funding, NOMA hopes to continue to add pieces from its permanent collection of 40,000 works.
NOMA joins more than 1,100 organizations on the Google Cultural Institute website, which displays high-resolution art and artifacts, museum walks, videos and music from around the world. The Amistad Research Center and the New Orleans Jazz Orchestra also are on the site.
Holy Cross High School rising sophomores Benjamin Oelkers and Christian Castro, both 15, were at the museum Thursday. They said they weren’t sure the website’s app would earn a spot on their phones alongside games, YouTube and school quiz apps.
But they liked the idea of getting a close-up look at art online. “Then you’re not worried about breaking anything,” Benjamin pointed out.
A group of students from West Jefferson High School said it was their first visit to the museum. They admired paintings in person and also took a whirl through the phone app that walks visitors, 3-D style, through the white-tiled Great Hall.
“It’s not the same experience as a field trip,” said Mary Rivas, 18. “But for people who can’t do that, it’s fun.”