Pixel Perfect Pre-Raphaelites

Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery will be the first museum to offer an unrivalled resource for studying the art of the Pre-Raphaelites, using Microsoft’s cutting-edge Silverlight technology to bring pixel perfect definition to the screen, as if seeing the real artwork in a museum. By mid-June, over 2,000 fine and decorative artworks with never before seen clarity will be available through Silverlight, a plug-in that offers the Pre-Raphaelite website and its users an amazing Deep Zoom functionality. This means a viewer’s study of any artwork is perfection on a screen, even on some seeing frays in the canvas, pencil etchings or brushstrokes. The plug-in will give users a never before available opportunity to analyse Pre-Raphaelite work and for users’ personal collections, the ability to zoom in on several images at once.

Led by the Birmingham City Council, the project was funded with help from the Joint Information Systems Committee (JISC) to help research, provide photographic equipment and develop the website. The depth of the collection is remarkable and Pre-Raphaelite fans will have no better site to visit than www.preraphaelites.org.  When using the pioneering deep zoom technology to navigate John Everett Millais’ The Blind Girl (1856), the results are outstanding. The plug-in allows you to go so close that the somewhat inconspicuous note under the lady’s shawl, saying, ‘Pity the Blind,’ suddenly takes a centre stage on your screen. And with this ability to zoom so close into the painting without any blurring, it is easy to absorb the detail and lavish colours used by the world-acclaimed artist. Each click onto individual artworks uploaded on this beautifully contructed website, oozing with a mono-esque look enhanced by the colours of the iconic art movement’s works, illustrate the Pre-Raphaelite style through a thoroughly indulgent interactive format.

An aesthetic gem, Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery have achieved this through an exhaustive process that has taken nearly two years of cataloguing and research and almost one year of photography. The process is still ongoing. Councillor Martin Mullaney, Cabinet Member for Leisure, Sport and Culture, said: “This is about bringing Birmingham’s world class collection of Pre-Raphaelite art to a world-wide audience using the latest digital technology. This should increase the number of virtual visits to the Museum and Art Gallery and can only enhance the city’s reputation internationally as a centre for culture.” The works on this state-of-the-art website do not stop with Millais. There are also works from the likes of other founder members of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, such as Dante Gabriel Rossetti and William Holman Hunt, as well as the slightly older Ford Madox Brown and the Birmingham-born Edward Burne-Jones. Also strongly represented are artists linked to ‘the second phase’ of the movement. The foundation of an arts and craft movement embracing the decorative arts, and the extension of the Pre-Raphaelite influence into the later nineteenth-century is seen in the Dalziel Brothers, Joseph Swain, John Ruskin, William Morris and the work of a number of women artists, notably Rosa Brett, Kate Bunce and Eleanor Fortesque-Brickdale. The site also ensures that it has a community feel for all its members with an improved level of access for all registered users.

Members can select and save favourite images online or group together images for study or research and keep collections private so that they can only be seen by the user or make them viewable by everyone. There is also the option of sharing personal collections with a select group such as friends and colleagues or with a class or study group. Every image will be imbedded with image metadata, making them easy to track and identify. With the images uploaded as low resolution jpegs, it will offer poor quality resolution away from its current interface. Every image is also copyrighted and closely monitored to ensure the images are only ever available via this website. The Pre-Raphaelites, considered the first avant-garde movement in art – a controversial statement for some, were a group of English painters, poets, and critics whose intention was to reform art by rejecting the approaches first adopted by the Mannerist artists who succeeded Raphael and Michelangelo. For them, Classical poses and elegant compositions of Raphael were a corrupting influence on the academic teaching of art and they wanted to return to the abundant detail, intense colours, and complex compositions of Quattrocento Italian and Flemish art.

Professor Stephen Wildman, Director of the Ruskin Library and Research Centre, Lancaster University, said: “The Pre-Raphaelite Online Resource is a major step forward in bringing Victorian art into the digital age. The images and information now available online will be of great use to scholars, while the teaching resources should fire the imagination and interest of schools everywhere, bringing the unsurpassed Birmingham collection the worldwide attention it deserves.” Steve Lamb, Technical Specialist for Microsoft UK, stated: “Silverlight was produced as a cross-browser, cross-platform plug-in to deliver the next generation of .Net-based media experience. The museum’s website offers users a unique and fantastic way in which to look at this vast and influential catalogue of Pre-Raphaelite artwork, using our deep zoom technology and is a true testament to Silverlight’s capabilities.”



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