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The Louvre's New Masterpiece

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The Louvre's web site has long been a treasure trove for art lovers, but the site's recent relaunch has moved the museum's online presence into a class of its own.

Launched in 1995, the Louvre's web site was one of the first collections of artwork placed online by a major museum. Back in the mid-90s, most web sites were crude and relatively sparse compared to what we expect today. Ten years ago, the Louvre set a new standard by digitizing thousands of its famous paintings, drawings and other artwork and making it freely accessible online.

This summer, the Louvre's web site has been completely revamped, and it's nothing short of stunning in both design and scope. In addition to adding tens of thousands of additional artworks to an already vast online collection, the museum's web site has also added powerful search and browse tools as well as numerous interactive features.

Start by exploring the museum's permanent collection of over 35,000 works and 140,000 drawings. In the physical museum, this collection is displayed in over 60,000 square meters of exhibition space. On the web, you can access it all via your own computer.

The collection covers Western art from the medieval period to 1848, formative works from the civilizations of the ancient world and works of Islamic art. The collection is grouped into eight Departments, each offering information about the scope of a collection, its historical and geographical setting and how works are selected for inclusion.

More than 1,500 works are accompanied by expert commentaries accessible in progressive levels of depth and detail. Web pages are designed to expand with additional information when you click a link, a nice design touch.

Another cool view of the permanent collection is offered by the Kaleidoscope feature, which organizes your virtual tour by visual themes. This makes it easy to take in all works with historical scenes, flora and fauna or portraits—there are dozens of these kaleidoscopic themes to choose from.

Alternately, you can explore the museum via virtual tours, which offer 360 degree views of many of the museum's actual galleries. These require Quicktime, and once loaded you can use your mouse to rotate the view around a gallery. Be sure to click the magnifying glass icon at the bottom of the view—this launches the view in a larger pop-up window.

Serious art researchers will want to check out the museum's online databases, which offer more detailed information as well as advanced search capabilities, although these databases are only available in French.

And of course, no visit to the Louvre would be complete without a look at the Portrait of Lisa Gherardini, wife of Francesco del Giocondo, aka The Mona Lisa.

There's a lot more available on the Louvre's new site—if you love art, be prepared to spend countless hours exploring this masterpiece of a web site. And for a fascinating look behind the scenes of the famous museum, visit the history of the Louvre section of the web site.

Want to explore other online museums? Check out Musee, a speciality search engine that has information about nearly 37,000 museums worldwide organized into over 100 different types of museum.

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