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Technology

See a famous work of art in incredible detail with 10-gigapixel scan

Admiring world-famous paintings from a few feet away is a special moment. Often people don’t realize the true size of artworks until they are in front and up close to it.

Take da Vinci’s Mona Lisa as an example. Looking at images online with no objects for reference, it is nearly impossible to understand its size. The world’s most famous painting is, in fact, only 30-inches by 20-inches. Can’t make it to an art museum? No worries. Tap or click here to visit museums virtually.

But how close can you really get to many famous art pieces? Well, microscope maker Hirox has taken “up close” to a whole new level.

Here’s the backstory

By taking over 9,000 photos at a 10-gigapixel resolution, Dutch artist Johannes Vermeer’s Girl with a Pearl Earring oil painting has been digitized down to every minuscule detail.

Currently hanging in the Mauritshuis museum in The Netherlands, Vermeer’s painting is one of the most well-known worldwide. Painted around 1665, it has been in the museum’s collection since 1902.

The 3D microscope used by Hirox is so powerful that it captures detail at four microns per pixel.

Why does it matter to you?

Very few people will in their lifetime get the chance to see an original, world-famous painting. By digitizing one of the most recognizable artworks, you truly can get closer than any museum experience can provide.

The project vividly captured individual brush strokes, dust particles and cracks in the oil. Art enthusiasts will marvel at the immense complexities of the work.

The microscopic photography was part of a project launched by the museum’s curators in 2018. The main goal of the project was to evaluate the science behind the artwork. The Girl in the Spotlight project made some interesting discoveries around Vermeer’s use of pigments and precise brushwork.

What can you do about it?

Viewing the work in 2D will give you an overview of the entire painting. By zooming in several times, you will be able to go right up to the dust particles and individual cracks.

But changing to 3D mode is where the real magic happens. There are 10 hotspots marked by the curators, allowing you to view specific areas in great detail. Measuring less than an inch each, the 10 spots can be viewed from as close as 165.7 micrometers. That is roughly 0.0064 of an inch.  

Scrolling around at such high resolutions, the surface of the painting looks like an alien planet. Rotating on all axis, you can examine the drop of paint on the girl’s eyeball in one spot. You can clearly see the valleys and ridges created by it on the canvas.

Bottom line

While everything is seemingly moving towards a digital existence, it is amazing that technology can bring paintings from 400 years ago to life.

For anybody who is even slightly interested in art, the Girl with a Pearl Earring’s digital transformation is a valuable teaching moment. Few things can beat seeing an original Vermeer hanging in a gallery, but you will never be able to view it at this level of detail.

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