Museum Stories

Reviewing Virtual Mauritshuis, the Gigapixel Experience

Alexandra Kiely 9 December 2020 min Read

Upon launching its new Virtual Mauritshuis initiative on November 26, 2020, the Mauritshuis became the world’s first museum to offer a gigapixel virtual experience. Sixteen permanent exhibition galleries and all the artworks within them now appear online via images with a billion-pixel resolution. Wow! Here are my thoughts after exploring Virtual Mauritshuis.

The Experience

Second Canvas Menu Virtual Mauritshuis
The Mauritshuis Second Canvas menu, iPad version. Image courtesy of Mauritshuis, The Hague, Netherlands.

Virtual Mauritshuis presents sixteen galleries in its 17th-century building, once the home of museum founder Johan Maurits (1604-1679). The building itself is quite lovely, so I appreciated getting to see the interiors along with the artwork. I particularly enjoyed the Golden Room in all its warm and stately glory.

Aside from a short introductory video, there is no structured tour. Instead, viewers are free to wander around and browse much like in a real-life visit. Navigating between and within rooms, something I often struggle with in virtual tours is pretty easy here. Little arrows on the floor move you from room to room. You can rotate 360 degrees, look up and down, and zoom in and out. A little map in the lower-left corner provides another way to navigate. I avoided getting lost, dizzy, or stuck on the ceiling – all problems I’ve had with similar experiences in the past. The platform offers a virtual reality experience, but I don’t own the technology necessary to try it for myself.

My only complaint about navigation is that you cannot move within rooms. Except for the largest galleries, which appear from multiple viewpoints, you can only rotate and zoom from the center. This makes it impossible to view many of the works head-on, since you can’t “stand” in front of them. Paintings hanging in the corners can appear at very oblique angles.

Gigapixel Glory

Rubens Old Woman Virtual Mauritshuis
A detail of Rubens’s Old Woman and Boy with Candles on Mauritshuis Second Canvas, iPad version. Image courtesy of Mauritshuis, The Hague, Netherlands.

Gigapixel imagery makes Virtual Mauritshuis absolutely stunning! The images are sharp, bright, and vivid. I zoomed in as far as I possibly could without encountering any pixelation, and it was actually kind of thrilling.

The Mauritshuis is home to top-quality Northern European art by masters like Vermeer, Rembrandt, Frans Hals, Jan Steen, and Jacob van Ruisdael. You can take a closer look at 36 highlights – including Vermeer’s Girl with a Pearl Earring, Carel Fabritius’s The Goldfinch, and Rembrandt’s The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Tulp – by clicking/tapping on a camera icon. Doing so summons a full-screen view capable of some pretty serious zooming. It was thrilling to see individual brushstrokes in Rembrandt’s late self-portrait on my screen. You can also read a text, listen to the audio commentary, or learn more about selected details. The museum’s Dutch still life paintings particularly benefit from the close-up viewing this technology facilitates. Infrared images also appear for a few works.

As for the rest of the collection, nothing is shortchanged. In the standard room view, I could easily get at least as close enough to each painting as I would have in person. Don’t feel afraid to zoom in and out constantly here.

My Verdict

Typically, I’m not a big fan of virtual visits that require moving around video game-style. I usually find them cumbersome and frustrating. However, I truly enjoyed spending a few hours with Virtual Mauritshuis. I didn’t have any of my usual struggles with navigation, the information provided about the 36 highlighted paintings was engaging, and I actually felt like I was able to appreciate the paintings for once. Thanks to the vivid gigapixel technology and relative ease of navigation, Virtual Mauritshuis is one of the strongest virtual museum visits I’ve yet experienced. I definitely recommend it.

Vermeer Girl Info Virtual Mauritshuis
Detail of Vermeer’s Girl with a Pearl Earring on Mauritshuis Second Canvas, iPhone version. Image courtesy of Mauritshuis, The Hague, Netherlands.

Details

View Virtual Mauritshuis on the Mauritshuis website or through the Mauritshuis Second Canvas app. Both options are free, and the app is available from the App Store and Google Play. (If you have used Mauritshuis Second Canvas before, this is a new and improved version.) I primarily explored through the website, but my brief look at Second Canvas suggested that both experiences are pretty much the same, though the app allows you to jump directly to the highlighted artworks. Both the web and app versions are available in English and Dutch.

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