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Museums, With a Mouse Click

by Lisa Adamowicz Kless

International Museum Day was observed on May 18th, and it just so happens that when we launched 2nd First Look, the very first article that I wrote was about an experience that I had in the incredible Museo Nacional del Prado in Madrid, Spain. Ever since my visit there and to the Louvre in Paris years and years ago, I’ve wished that I could get back. Luckily, these days I can do that every single day, if I want to, and not have to spend any money on a plane ticket or other travel expenses. Granted, it’s definitely not the same as being at these extraordinary art museums in person, but until I have the chance to hop over “the pond” again, let me tell you about some of the special features of the websites of the Prado, Louvre, and the Tate that allow you to visit without having to leave home. Keep in mind that I’m sure there are many, many more sites that have fantastic features like the ones I’ll mention, and that even for these three that I’m highlighting, this probably won’t be a comprehensive list of all that their websites have to offer. There are times when I’m having technical issues and curse technology, but then things like these sites and their special features make me stop and reconsider.

Museo Nacional del Prado

Museo Nacional del Prado—Madrid, Spain

Even though art is a “universal language,” one of the first, most helpful features of the Prado website is that it has options to translate the pages into a variety of languages, so that there’s no need to try and muddle through navigation of the site. Along with photos of the inside of the museum itself that help you feel like you may have stepped inside for a look, the Prado also offers an online gallery that allows you to peruse some of the museum’s collection. There’s also a feature called “In Depth” that showcases a handful of works and goes into great detail about them. For example, for a painting by Rembrandt, there are options to click on to learn more that include topics like compositional elements, iconography, the history of the painting, the historical and artistic context, technical information, and a video. Even viewing this piece at the museum itself, you may not get such an in-depth overview.

Another feature that I've found really fascinating is "Restoration", under the Research tab. There's a list of almost a dozen works, and if you click on any one, a drop down menu gives you the option to see photos and videos of the process of restoring these pieces. It's interesting to see what a fine line they have to walk between restoration and trying to prevent future deterioration, and still maintaining the integrity of the original work of art.

My favorite feature of the website is probably “Pradomedia” though. This page has different tabs to explore: exhibitions, collection, education, research, and games, and each one contains videos that you can watch to find out more about that specific subject. I’ve been able to watch a few of the special talks about objects in the museum, hosted by museum staff, and it’s been wonderful to be able to do this. These have been public events that were held at the museum and recorded, so it gave me a chance to be part of the audience, even from over 4,000 miles away. I had to rely on my shaky knowledge of Spanish to understand what was being said, but thankfully I know enough that I was still able to get quite a bit out of it. The games tab is a lot of fun too. As of now, there’s only one option listed, a puzzle game, but in the past there have been more to choose from. Some of them seemed to be geared more towards children, but I didn't care; I played most of them anyway, and had fun.

The Prado website is nearly as extensive as the museum itself, so hop on over and take a look.


Louvre—Paris, France
Website: www.louvre.fr

Like the Prado, the Louvre has options to translate their website into different languages, allowing users to take full advantage of all of the information it gives. It also has a feature, called “Selected Works” (under the Collection & Louvre Palace tab), that has work available to look at online. It’s divided into categories, covering subjects like masterpieces, jewelry, the French Revolution, Napoleon, major events in history, and more. Also under the Collection & Louvre Palace tab, there are descriptions of rooms within the Louvre, and virtual tours that website visitors can take. Right now there are two tour options available: Egyptian Antiquities, and Remains of the Louvre’s Moat.

Under another tab, Learning About Art, there are categories such as “Through Children’s Eyes,” where Louvre experts answer questions about some of the museum’s pieces from children aged five to eleven, “A Closer Look,” which allows you to see details of select art through a virtual magnifying glass and includes commentary and animations, and my personal favorite, “Tales of the Museum.” This interactive animation features an illustrated Dominique-Vivant Denon, the museum’s first director of the Louvre back in 1802, and his workshop. By clicking on objects in the workshop, choosing from a list, and/or using an index, there are about fifty anecdotes and five longer stories about the Louvre and its artwork available. For example, by clicking on an illustration of the bust of what looked like an ancient-era woman, I was led to a short video called “The Divided Couple,” about the statue of an Egyptian royal couple that broke into several pieces. Part of it came up for auction in 1926 and was acquired by the museum. What a fun way for kids—and adults!—to learn about the history of some of the museum’s collection. Just like the Prado site, there’s much more to explore than what I’ve mentioned here, so I highly recommend setting aside some time to check it out yourself.

Tate Britain

Tate—London, Liverpool, and St. Ives, England
Website: www.tate.org.uk

The Tate in England has four major locations: Tate Britain, Tate Modern, Tate Liverpool, and Tate St. Ives. The main website offers separate tabs for all of these locations; if you click on them, it mostly gives information about the specific location and its hours, how to get there, tips for visitors, and so on. It’s the main site where all the “action” is though: along with tabs giving general information, there are options titled Art and artists, Blogs and channels, Learn, Research, and Albums.

Art and artists provides a glimpse not only into the museums’ collections, but over 2,500 pieces of art by Joseph Mallord Williams Turner from other collections. It has a handy glossary of art terms too, and gives you the ability to order custom prints of artwork from the collections. Blogs and channels gives site visitors the opportunity to read articles and watch videos through features like “20 minute tours” and “Tate staff: Behind the scenes.” Some of the topics of these include art movements (pop art, surrealism, performance art, etc.), sculpture, photography, cinema and film, and much more.

I’ve explored the Learn tab a little bit, and to me, it’s one of the most appealing. It features articles and videos too, but then there are really cool options like Tate Kids, which caters to children by providing not only age-appropriate games, videos, and access to the kids’ collection of visual art, but has dozens of writing and craft/art activities and even art-related homework help available as well. There’s nothing saying that grown-ups can’t check out these features too, but so that we don’t feel left out, there are other things to check out under the Learn tab too, such as a link to Khan Academy, the Tate’s free online courses.

Research takes you to information on their archive, library, reading rooms, and print and drawing rooms, which, unfortunately for those of us outside of England, you have to physically visit to access. But the Research tab also has a link to research publications, some of which can be read online.

One of the last features I wanted to highlight on the Tate website is the intriguing Albums tab. This is a beta feature that allows visitors to the site to create an album by adding Tate content, their own content, and then share it with others. The site cautions that this is “brand new and (they’re) still working on it. All the basics should be there, but sometimes it might be a bit cumbersome, not look very pretty or not update as quickly as you might expect. But (they’d) like to have your feedback…Please have a go at creating an album and let (them) know what works or doesn’t.” I haven’t tried it out myself yet, but it sounds interesting and potentially lots of fun.

And of course, like the other two websites, this is just a fraction of what’s available and at your fingertips online. Take a look.

Your turn, readers; are there other museum websites with awesome interactive features that you’d recommend? If so, leave a comment and let us know which ones.