Art from home — 10 of the best virtual museum experiences in Europe
How the British Museum, the Louvre, the Uffizi and more are bringing their treasures into your home
Much of the British Museum’s collection of around eight million objects, spanning over two million years of human history and culture, is available to explore online. The Google Arts & Culture virtual tour is perhaps the most enjoyable and glitch-free way of discovering it.
Highlights on ‘virtual’ display include the Lewis Chessmen, a remarkable group of 12th-century chess pieces carved from walrus ivory and whales’ teeth, and the decorated wooden coffin of an ancient Egyptian named Pasenhor. The Museum of the World timeline, curated by category, continent and century, is a brilliant alternative for those in search of a whistle-stop tour of star exhibits.
For teachers and parents on home-schooling duties, the museum’s comprehensive bank of free learning resources covers everything from Ancient Egypt and Japanese Printmaking to drawing and critical thinking activities for toddlers to teens.
Don’t miss… The British Museum’s series of downloadable podcasts. Browse the archive of 13 episodes to hear more about the museum’s activity, from exhibitions to accessibility programmes.
The Uffizi houses one of the world’s outstanding collections of sculptures and paintings from the Middle Ages to the Modern period, including ancient statues and busts once in the collection of the Medici family.
Take a digital stroll through the galleries to marvel at such masterpieces as Leonardo da Vinci’s Adoration of the Magi (1480-81) and The Birth of Venus (1483-85) by Sandro Botticelli. In addition to the Google Arts & Culture virtual tour, you can explore four online exhibits, each of which is dedicated to an outstanding work in the museum’s collection.
Elsewhere on the museum’s homepage you can find links to the browsable digital archives and its online magazine.
Don’t miss… Titian’s Venus of Urbino (1532-34), bought by the Duke of Urbino as a gift for his young wife in 1538. The painting — which depicts a nude young woman traditionally identified as the goddess Venus in a domestic interior — is widely considered one of the most sensual paintings of the 16th century.
Although the world’s most visited museum is now temporarily closed, you can still explore a part of its remarkable collection of approximately 380,000 objects online. Each of the museum’s four virtual tours (Adobe Flash Player is required) features an interactive map and detailed explanations of key works.
Discover the history of the Louvre as a palace and museum on the ‘Medieval Tour’, or take the ‘Egyptian Antiquities’ tour for a walkthrough of the eastern wing of the Louvre (Sully), home to the magnificent Tanis Sphinx (2600 BC).
Don’t miss… The virtual tour of the Apollo Gallery, the first Royal Gallery for Louis XIV. Rebuilt after a fire in 1661, it features 41 paintings, 118 sculptures and 28 tapestries, including The Triumph of Neptune, Evening or Morpheus and Night or Diana by Charles Le Brun.
In response to the current health crisis, the Rijksmuseum has launched Rijksmuseum From Home, a brilliant multi-media initiative offering visitors 10 ways to engage with the collection online. Highlights of the new digital programme include the #Rijksmuseumfromhome short video series, which sees museum curators discuss their favourite works in the museum, and Masterpieces Up Close.
The latter slickly recreates the experience of browsing the works on display in the Rijksmuseum’s Gallery of Honour, home to Vermeer’s Woman Reading a Letter (circa 1663) and Rembrandt’s The Jewish Bride (circa 1665–1669), among others. As you ‘walk’ through the gallery, click on works to zoom in and see them up close. Of those on display, around 20 have accompanying audio descriptions.
Don’t miss… Operation Night Watch, a comprehensive dive into Rembrandt’s most famous painting: The Night Watch (1642). The intuitive multi-media presentation unpacks the painting’s secrets, history and composition in entertaining style.
Designed by Canadian architect Frank Gehry and built between 1993 and 1997, the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao is a landmark of 20th-century architecture. Organised around a central atrium, the three levels of the museum can now be explored at the click of a button.
To look at the outside and inside of the museum, take a leisurely digital stroll through the permanent collection, featuring works by modern and contemporary artists, such as Anish Kapoor, Anselm Kiefer and Yves Klein. For something faster paced, watch Bending Gravity, a thrilling short video (in English) that explores the museum building as seen through the eyes of urban photographer Trashhand and free-runner Johan Tonnoir.
Spanish-speakers can also enjoy a series of curator-led video tours as part of the Guggenheim’s initiative to bring the museum and its collection to your home.
Don’t miss… The short introduction to Maman (1997), a gigantic bronze spider by French-American artist Louise Bourgeois. Originally conceived for Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall in 2000, the sculpture is now one of the artist’s most recognisable works.
Madrid’s Thyssen-Bornemisza has unveiled an enjoyable virtual tour of its blockbuster exhibition, Rembrandt and Amsterdam portraiture, 1590-1670. Charting the Dutch artist’s activities as a portraitist, it features around 40 of Rembrandt’s paintings alongside works by his most talented peers.
For more information about Rembrandt’s life and art, take a short guided video tour of the exhibition (in English with Spanish subtitles) with curator Norbert E. Middelkoo, or leaf through the exhibition’s accompanying interactive publication.
Beyond Rembrandt, there’s a virtual tour of the museum’s permanent collection, which spans more than eight centuries of art history and includes works by artists such as Paul Cézanne, Franz Marc and Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, among others. Online, you can also find links to a wealth of thematic tours of collection highlights.
Don’t miss… The museum’s curated edit of Spotify playlists to soundtrack your days at home.
The National Gallery’s homepage offers plenty of links to at-home resources, including behind-the-scenes videos, story features, detailed guides to must-see works, as well as virtual tours.
In 2016 the museum teamed up with Google Street View to offer 360-degree tours of the Central Hall and Rooms 4, 5, 9, 10, 11, 12 and 15. Although the interactive arrows on these tours are frustratingly fiddly to navigate, persevere and you’ll come face to face with Renaissance masterpieces from northern Italy, the Netherlands and Germany, including works by Titian, Veronese and Holbein.
Also offered is a 3D-tour of the Sainsbury Wing, home to the Gallery’s collection of Early Renaissance paintings, and an additional 2011 Adobe Flash virtual tour of a further 18 galleries. The latter is integrated with the museum’s information pages, so that you can quickly and easily find out more about the paintings and the artists who painted them.
Don’t miss… The Gallery’s remarkable collection of 10 works by Italian Renaissance artist Paolo Veronese, all of which are on virtual display in either Room 9 or 11d.
On the ‘Discover the Museums’ webpage, you’ll find links to 360-degree virtual tours of the Vatican’s seven most popular sites, including the Sistine Chapel, Raphael’s Rooms and the Chiaramonti Museum. There’s also one of the Necropolis of the Via Triumphalis, an outstanding example of an ancient Roman burial ground.
In addition, there are short online videos of other popular Vatican sites, including the Christian Museum and the 17th-century Chapel of Pope Urban VIII Barberini.
Don’t miss… The opportunity for a closer look at the magnificent painted ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, which continues to host the most important services of the Papal Calendar. Completed in 1512, Michelangelo’s masterpiece spans over 5,000 square feet and features more than 300 figures.
In a bid to share its remarkable collection with audiences around the world, the State Hermitage has launched a new series of video broadcasts on YouTube about works in the collection (currently only available in Russian). Online, you can also find a selection of educational articles in English, charting everything from the museum’s history and architecture to key patrons.
Highly recommended is the excellent 360-degree Virtual Visit of the museum’s galleries, complete with an interactive floorplan and text descriptions of standout works. If you have five hours to spare, settle in to watch The Hermitage Shot on an i-Phone Pro, a one-take film (with audio but no voiceover) that takes you languidly through the museum — no clicking required.
Don’t miss… The Italian Cabinet (Room 230), which is home to Crouching Boy (1530-1534), the only work by Italian Renaissance master Michelangelo (1475-1564) in Russia.
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Berlin’s Pergamon Museum is home to one of the world’s most important collections of Greek and Roman art, as well as a remarkable collection of Islamic and Middle Eastern art. The library of online activities and resources includes a browsable digital database of the collection, a 360-degree virtual tour of museum galleries, and, most impressively, a 3D model of its star exhibit, the Pergamon Altar.
Built during the reign of Eumenes II, king of Pergamon (in the west of what is today Turkey) in the first half of the 2nd century BC, the altar depicts the Gigantomachy, the battle between the Olympian Gods and the Giants. The hall that contains the altar is closed for refurbishment until at least 2024, so make the most of the 3-D model tool which allows you to explore the Hellenistic masterpiece up close.
Don’t miss…The Market Gate of Miletus, one of the best-known exhibits in the Pergamon Museum. This large marble monument was built in Miletus in the 2nd century AD, but was destroyed in an earthquake in the 10th or 11th century. It was later excavated by a German archaeological team and rebuilt for display in the Pergamon.