Lockdown is the New Norm, But All is Not Lost As Virtual Museums Open
With UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson instructing the closure of museums and galleries across the UK, one by one their doors have shut this week after stringent new ‘lockdown’ measures were implemented aimed at tackling the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
The good news is history and art lovers can now view thousands of artifacts, paintings and sculptures in minute detail as they explore virtual museums themselves on various online platforms. From interactive 360-degree videos and full “walk-around” tours with voiceover descriptions, to zoomable photos and slide shows of the world’s greatest artworks, allowing viewers to get closer to the art world than they could ever have got in real life.
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According to the Museum Association, the London’s Wellcome Collection was among the first UK venues to announce its closure last week and almost all institutions in London are now closed with many more across the country closing this week and many have indicated that they will be staying shut until at least 1 May. The National Trust announced that it would close all of its buildings, shops and cafes, but outdoor spaces would remain open so people could use them for exercise during the crisis, free of charge.
Now, Britain’s Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery have uploaded four virtual tours of their collections so people can access them from home. The first is the ‘The Round Room’, dating back to 1885, when the building first opened, followed by the ‘Art Galleries’ exhibiting over 700 years of art from the 1300s to the modern day which were opened at the museum in 1919.
The Round Room, which can be seen on the virtual museum tour online. (Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery / CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)
The third stop on the virtual tour is the largest collection of Anglo-Saxon gold and silver treasure ever found - the 7th century ‘Staffordshire Hoard,’ and the final exhibit is a galley featuring ‘Birmingham: its people, its history,’ revealing the city’s history from its medieval beginnings through to the Industrial Revolution.
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When it comes to virtual tours, the British Museum is perhaps the world leader offering a Google Street View tour of the museum’s exterior and a selection of rooms highlighting exhibits of interest, with links to further information about each artifact. There is also this rather slick tool, a “multi-sensory Museum of the World tour” which lets you browse exhibits by century, continent and themes.
Ancient Assyrian statues found in the British Museum. (Neil Howard / CC BY-NC 2.0)
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The Natural History Museum offers a Google Arts and Culture tour aimed at keeping kids entertained and educated during the lockdown while the Courtauld Gallery was well ahead of the corona-curve as it closed its doors in 2018 for major redevelopments. It’s virtual tour allows visitors to explore all seven rooms of the gallery zooming in on masterpieces like Vincent van Gogh's Self-Portrait With Bandaged Ear, or Amadeo Modgliani's Female Nude, and the National Gallery created a Google Street View tour back in 2016 giving you access to over 300 Renaissance masterpieces, along with description on individual art works.
Blue Whale Skeleton hanging From the ceiling of the Natural History Museum in London, which can be seen on the virtual museum tour online. (GioRez / Adobe stock)
Virtual Museums Around The Planet
Leaving Britain’s shores, The Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History in America have for a long time offered remote viewers virtual tours allowing visitors to take self-guided, room-by-room tours of select exhibits and areas within the museum from their desktops and mobile devices.
The Getty in LA is one of the best places for historic arts and crafts on the West Coast of the US from Neolithic clay figures to Van Gogh’s Irises and Renoir’s La Promenade, both featured in the virtual tour. A Google Arts and Culture offers a ‘museum view’ tool to look inside gallery spaces with interactive clickable artworks.
Italy has become an epicenter of the viral outbreak and while the Vatican’s museums are closed its vaulted ceilings, intricate murals and tapestries, are included in the seven spaces in the museum’s virtual tour, including a 360-degree image of the Sistine Chapel.
Ceiling of the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican City. (Sergii Figurnyi / Adobe stock)
And in Spain, a country close behind Italy in the number of cases of infection, the Guggenheim in Bilbao offers virtual visitors an interactive tour of a collection of postwar American and European paintings and sculptures.
In Paris, France, in the former Gare d’Orsay railway station and hotel, the Musée d’Orsay is home to the largest collection of Impressionist and post-Impressionist works in the world including the works of Monet and other French masters. The virtual tour includes an online exhibition charting the history of the building and over on ‘Tourist Tube’ there’s a 360-degree view of the magnificent exterior.
What this all means is that you must now take a break from all the tragic news, and enter full-screen mode, to start your own history and arts adventure.
Top image: Amid coronavirus lockdowns and closures, you can spend your extra time in one of the virtual museums worldwide. (Main: Natural History Museum in London entrance. Inset: Closed sign.) Source: kmiragaya & Julistock / Adobe stock
By Ashley Cowie