Art lovers offered virtual galleries
Art lovers will be able to stroll through some of the world's most famous galleries at the click of a mouse after Google put the venues online using Street View technology.
In a collaboration with 17 leading galleries in nine countries, the US internet giant took equipment from the cars it used to map cities and recorded the galleries so they can now be enjoyed by anyone with web access.
The Museum of Modern Art in New York, London's National Gallery and the Museo Reina Sofia in Madrid are three of the galleries that art aficionados will be able to explore by logging on to www.googleartproject.com.
Art by Vincent van Gogh, James McNeill Whistler and Sandro Botticelli are among more than 1,000 works that have been photographed and "hung" in the virtual galleries.
In all, visitors will be able to look around more than 350 gallery rooms containing work by more than 450 artists.
While many big galleries have already put their work online, Google claims its 'Art Project' takes the experience to a new level.
As well as the Street View-style tours, the site offers an application to build up a virtual private art collection, and super high-resolution pictures which allow enthusiasts to look at works in minute detail.
The project represents "a major step forward in how a lot of people are going to interact with these beautiful treasures," said Nelson Mattos, vice-president of engineering at Google.
"We hope it will inspire ever more people, wherever they live, to access and explore art," he said.
The project organisers also played down concerns that putting artworks online would slash the number of visitors to the museums, and instead said they expected the site to boost attendance.
"In our experience, people - once they get a glimpse - want to see the real thing," said Nicholas Serota, director of the Tate Britain.