The Prado App Second Canvas
What could make the Museum experience interesting to a modern-day visitor? That question troubles curators, administrators, web developers and education managers all over the world. Another question could be: what makes the experience of a work of art interesting, and, more precisely, how do old masters and chief works of a collection, probably reproduced innumerable times, become interesting to a wider audience? Although the question of audience engagement and the role of social media is widely and often controversially discussed, it is a particularly opportune time for creative experiments that at times challenge the traditional perception of the sublime experience that a visit to the museum should engender.
This short contribution does not want to pretend engaging in a theoretical discussion but rather to be a eulogy to the new mobile application SECOND CANVAS that Madpixel has developed for the Museo del Prado. What is it? It is an interactive and explorative tool to a fraction of the museum’s highlights but what it offers might very well surprise and delight its user. Fourteen artworks, from Fra Angelico’s Annunciation to Goya’s 3rd of May, 1808 (that will appear in a non-chronological order on the screen) have been selected and are accessible in a crystal clear gigapixel quality, accompanied by an audioguide introduction and some historic remarks, much like the very informative online catalogue that is also found on the Prado’s website, as well as related works of art accessible in a lesser quality.
What makes this app an extraordinary experience is the quality of reproduction that allows an almost microscopic inspection of the paintings in such a way that even the painting’s craquelure can be inspected in clear sharpness (which accounts for the more that 230MB that the app will fill on the storage!). Several museums – having understood the necessity of showing their works online if they really want to reach an audience that is not coming anyway – already offer the possibility to explore their paintings and to zoom onto their surface, but this app even goes two steps further: not only can the user switch to the x-radiograph after having zoomed into a particular area of the painting, he or she can also switch to the infrared reflectogram and back, thus being able to compare the preparation of the ground, the underdrawing and the painted surface with only one touch. This is more than just a well-looking gadget, but an educative tool cleverly thought through.The way the user is guided to explore the painting and the materials mimics the exploration that we would experience when looking through all these materials successively, on paper or on the screen.
The experience is multi-sensual and will in the best case be an incentive to learn more about the works of art and the numerous ways of approaching it.
When the developers emphasize that the app also is an educative tool, they are right, and especially art historians should not hurry to reject it. The art technological approach to paintings and their materials is rarely thought in conventional classes, and most students don’t even know how basic technologies work – simply because they are not taught in the majority of institutes of art history. Odd, one might think: shouldn’t students of art history be trained in all of the core disciplines of their field?