Zeroing in on Masterpieces

WITHIN THE PAST WEEK, an Italian web site posted online six glories of Renaissance painting from the Uffizi; another three from Milan, Rome and a church in the Piedmont; plus one late 19th century Italian peasant scene. As you can guess from the name of the site (Haltadefinizione), all ten can be viewed in extreme high resolution. Nearly 28 billion pixels, several thousand times greater than ordinary digital photos, permits stunning enlargement.

Among featured works are: Botticelli’s The Birth of Venus; Bronzino’s Portrait of Eleonora of Toledo da Vinci’s Annunciation and The Last Supper; The Baptism of Christ by Verrocchio and da Vinci; Caravaggio’s Bacchus, and Gaudenzio Ferrari’s scene from the life of Christ from a church in the Piedmont. Also, Francesco Michetti’s peasant scene, Pescara (1895) and Andrea Pozzo’s baroque Glory of St. Ignatius (1685).

Caravaggio, Bacchus (c. 1597)

Why only ten? Will more be coming? If I read Italian, perhaps I could tell you but I can’t. I can only say that at 1,500 ppi. you can zero in with extraordinary detail. Each image (with interactive controls for moving in, out and around) necessarily takes time to load. They will be available only until January.

I wonder, though, how this compares to the capabilities of looking at art on an iPad. I don’t own one—yet—but I have been taken on a tour through a friend’s virtual collection on his iPad. He has accumulated an extensive image library, far more than the few teasers on Haltadefinizione. There are no controls and no copyright stamp (none, that is, of the technological deliverer) to obscure the full screen image.
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He can zoom in, out and around with the touch of a finger on the screen. And the movement is seamless. Moreover, there is no time limit on your collection. Nothing falls out out of it. Once you download the image, it is yours to look at foever.

In any case, see for yourself. If you have any observations on the hi-res technology here. or image-viewing on the iPad, please do not hesitate to tell me. Am grateful for guidance in things technical.
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Meantime, you can take an extraordinary tour of the Sistine Chapel right here. When you are there in person, it is packed with sweating tourists holding their webcams and digital cameras over their heads, all clicking away in a frenzy of picture-taking. Sorry to admit, you can see the Sistine easier online. This is a particularly fine tour that makes an effort to retain its devotional purpose, a factor that gets lost in its double life as a tourist attraction. If you can’t get to Rome in the off-season, this does nicely.


© Maureen Mullarkey


  1. It is indeed a new age for art on the internet, where you can find an image of just about any past or contemporary artwork in museums or galleries with a little effort. One of my favorite sites is Art Renewal International, which for all its quirkiness and rough edges provides an enormous historical collection of art images, with a particular emphasis on the academic and realist works condemned by modernism, and an attitude designed to provoke the Greenbergians.

    A standard art-critical cliche warns against looking at photographs of art, as if, nearly two centuries after the invention of the camera, we savages are unable to distinguish the picture from the real thing. On the contrary, most viewers can quickly compute the differential between their own web visit and the official reviews, and decide whether the trip is worthwhile. Who was the New York critic who wrote that you could not begin to understand a painting until you stood in front of it for forty minutes? (No doubt he would then tell you that you were wrong.) Never mind that even today’s beachwear-clad throngs understand enough to let everyone get a turn and not block others’ view. The proper time in front of a painting is a lifetime, for which we have the old glossy reproductions and the new bright pixels for assistance.

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