The European Commission published two reports today in which it urges cultural institutions throughout Europe to publish more of their art collection(s) online.
The report on digitisation of culture and preserving it online shows that in recent years there has been an increase in digitisation efforts of art and their publication online. However, the report also notes that the work is far from done:
[O]nly a fraction of Europe’s collections [is] digitised so far (around 12% on average for libraries and less than 3% for films).
The European Commission therefore states that it will continue to monitor the progress in this area and at the same time the Commission encourages further digitisation efforts of cultural heritage. The Commission furthermore suggests that, in order to help finance these initiatives, the European Structural and Investment Funds could be tapped into.
You can find well over 30 million already digitised works of cultural heritage at Europeana.eu. In this online library, you can find among others; classical works of art from the Dutch Rijksmuseum, Diplomatic Documents of Switzerland, and 1262 pieces of 3D Icons. From what we gather, however, the website is not very well known. European Commission Vice-President Neelie Kroes even called Europeana “the best cultural collection that no-one has heard of.” Testament to that is that even the aforementioned European Commission report on digitisation uses a picture of Raphael’s ‘The School of Athens’ fresco, from wikiart.org on its cover, and not one of Europeana’s versions of the fresco. The reason for this cannot be one of copyright, as many of these Europeana’s versions are Licensed under a Creative Commons licence that would allow their use.
Now, the Commission’s efforts are directed at digitising art within the European Union. A more global approach is taken by Google, with its Google Cultural Institute, in particular the Art Project. From the Google Cultural Institute’s website:
Museums large and small, classic and modern, world-renowned and community-based from over 40 countries have contributed more than 40,000 high-resolution images of works ranging from oil on canvas to sculpture and furniture. Some paintings are available in ‘gigapixel’ format, allowing you to zoom in at brushstroke level to examine incredible detail.
The advantage of this project is that you can indeed zoom into so far that you are allowed to have a closer look at the painting than you would be able to have in the museum itself. It offers more than just a Google Street View in Museums, where you are given the opportunity to ‘walk’ through the museum and look at the art. This Art Project also allows you to have a look at individually digitised paintings, in great detail.
What is great about these projects, both Europeana and Google’s Art Project, is that they provide access to cultural heritage, for everyone with an internet connection. Therefore, the European Commission’s continued support and urging of more digitisation within the European Union is very welcome.
Update: there was a report that the link to the report was broken. The new link to the report is updated accordingly.