Mark Harden's Artchive: CD-ROM Reviews

Microsoft Art Gallery Microsoft Art Gallery: The Collection of the National Gallery, London

Microsoft Corporation

Microsoft Art Gallery offers a wealth of reproductions from the National Gallery in London.

See also: The National Gallery Complete Illustrated Catalogue

The interface is divided into five parts:

- "Artist's Lives" (Screen Capture) is an alphabetical listing of the painters that takes you to a biography and thumbnails of that artist's works. You can then bring up an individual work to look at in detail.

- "Historical Atlas" categorizes the images by geographical location and historical time period. Eventually you arrive at the same painting detail as above.

- "Picture Types" categorizes the images by subject (Religious Imagery, Portraits, Views, Still Life, etc.). Each subject is further subdivided, for example, you can thread through Religious Imagery to Altarpieces, and finally to Polytychs, where a group of thumbnails is provided to link to the individual works.

- "General Reference" is an illustrated glossary of painting terms.

- "Guided Tours" offers four multi-page threads: "Composition and Perspective", "Making Paintings", "Paintings as Objects" and "Beneath the Varnish". Each of the tours includes animated analysis of exemplary works. The animation will only run under 256 colors.

Microsoft Art Gallery is a couple of years old now, but still holds its own. The selection mirrors that of the National Gallery, so expect an emphasis on pre-twentieth-century works. The reproduction color is somewhat muted, and the Zoom function (Screen Capture) only enlarges the image to a maximum of 640 or 480 pixels depending on the orientation of the painting. The interface is effective and simple. One nice feature for us provincials that are not privy to oral art discussions is a .wav file pronunciation of each of the artists' names. This will save me a lot of embarrassment the next time I am in a Parisian cafe discussing the work of Ingres.

I still see it selling for US$50, but that's a little high. Try to get a used copy for US$25 or so, or wait to see if Mr. Gates lowers the price on a revised version, as he has this year with Encarta (down from US$75 to US$50 this year) and Cinemania (down from US$60 to $30). If the National Gallery collection coincides with your tastes, you will get more for your money (only US$30) with "Great Artists".

The bottom line for any art CD-ROM is, does it give you something that you couldn't get by buying a book with the same reproductions in it? In this case, the answer is no. The images would be larger in a book, with better colors and resolution. The interaction offered by the CD-ROM is limited to categorization of the works.

Comment from gallery patrons:

"When you say that _Microsoft Art Gallery_ doesn't offer you much more than a printed book, you overlook some other people's needs. It's invaluable to me for classroom use. I can't distribute 200 color copies, or hold up a book at the front of a large lecture hall, and even our Elmo visual presenter (fancy opaque projector) is too clunky. The CD-ROM allows me to project paintings on a large screen for study."

Contributed by Paul Cohen

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