Virtual museums and galleries

Have you ever visited the Vatican Museums, the Louvre, the National Museum of Computing or National Museum of Natural History in Washington? If you haven’t been to one of them yet and you’re looking for a museum experience that’s out of the ordinary, virtual museums might interest you. You can view them from the comfort of your own computer or also often via Cardboards with a smartphone. The experience is completely unique. 

Source: YouTube channel KISK 

What does a whale look like up-close? How big were the first computers? These are only some of the questions that dawn on everyone during classes in school. Having the opportunity to truly observe things, almost touch them, think about them and see them is certainly an experience that can’t be compared to when we’re only reading or listening about a certain topic. Virtual museums probably can’t provide the same experience as visiting real ones, but they have their advantages. Primarily, we don’t have to travel to see them, and we can manage to visit museums in several different countries over the course of one day. Also, you won’t be crowded in with other people and you can easily find extra information on the internet. And, mainly, usually the best museums are virtual, so a museum in the Krkonoše Mountains might offer an authentic experience in folk art, but it simply won’t have an elephant, mummy or medieval liturgical vessels in its collection.  

There are several technologies that allow for the creation of virtual museums. These can be classic websites, Web VR, which allows you to walk around directly in the browser window, Google Expeditions or tours directly in immersive virtual reality (for example The British Museum has been created for Oculus Rift). In this module, we’re inviting you on a tour of several such museums, but it’s only a small selection and it is constantly growing. By the way - the first virtual museum was MOCA, which was founded in 1993.  

The National Museum of Natural History is one of the most famous natural science museums in the world. You can walk through several exhibits directly from the browser window or use cardboards. This involves panoramic images created from various positions, so the tour is not completely open, but it is comfortable. You can read the larger titles and information panels, look at exhibit pieces, and move around with the help of a user-friendly map. The disadvantage is that there are no supporting or augmenting resources that you can click on for more information.  

The Vatican Museums offer virtual tours of interesting fragments of their collections - you can’t expect to see everything, but the selection is very well curated, so you’ll see interesting items in each division, often in places that you wouldn’t normally look. However, descriptions that might create a context are also lacking here.  

Hintze Hall is created in the Sketchfab experimental environment. This makes it possible to combine 360° photography with supplemental information. You can click on individual exhibit pieces and find out more information on them, or be captivated by the highly uncommon appearance of the virtual reality space. The project is more of a futuristic demonstration than that of an elite museum.  

The Louvre offers a rather simple tour that is formed from 360° photographs, which will take you to over ten places in the whole museum. Each place offers additional images, and sometimes video and descriptions. It’s not a classic tour of individual exhibits, but the system will allow you to understand the structure of the museum as a whole.  

The National Museum of Computing is one of the best-designed virtual museums - it makes it relatively easy to walk through the whole museum, read descriptions, and use interactive elements that contain additional information. If you’re interested in the history of computer technology, you have to see this museum.  

On a virtual tour through the National Museum of Computing, you’ll see things like a huge storage disk from the 1950s that wouldn’t be able to fit a single photo from a smartphone today. Source: KISK. 

The Metropolitan Museum of Art offers virtual tours as 360° videos. The disadvantage is that you can’t select your own path, but you will walk through all the most interesting and nicest parts of the whole museum in a matter of minutes.  

The Paul Getty Museum offers a view of virtual collections from a slightly different perspective. Emphasis isn’t placed on walking through the museum with virtual effects, but on observing the collections themselves and their descriptions, which is supplemented by additional information. The exhibitions here are more of a study character, which is definitely not a bad thing.  

The British Museum not only has a classic VR project, but also offers nice walks through a large part of the museum with the help of Google StreetView. We recommend looking at other sources too - the museum has a blog, podcasts, and educational materials. They’ve tried to set everything up so that the result is a personalized experience - for example with the Egyptian statues.  

The Rijksmuseum is a large museum in Holland. Here you’ll find a remarkably large collection of Dutch paintings from Vermeer to Rembrandt. The gallery is intriguing in that it allows you to save the paintings that you like, make clippings from them, or create postcards. The creators are trying to make the virtual tour as interactive and interesting as possible. You can find both basic information and well-arranged metadata for each image – so, for example, you can look for panel paintings or specific themes.  

In the Rijksmuseum, you can set off on a tour of Van Gogh or Vermeer’s paintings from your own living room – all you need is a smartphone and headphones! Source: KISK

Other interesting lists of virtual museums can be found at 12 World-Class Museums You Can Visit Online or 10 of the world’s best virtual museum and art gallery tours. You can also try the purely Czech projects of the National Museum.  

On Google Arts and Culture, you can find many other museums linked to StreetView mode. At the same time, the application is also trying to digitize individual sites and add descriptions to them, so it’s easy to access all the works of a certain artist; from them, the system will set up an exhibition for you. You can also access many interesting experimental functions. As for Czech museums, you can visit one like the permanent exhibit in Kampa. 

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