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Mark Harden's Artchive: CD-ROM Reviews

The National Gallery
Complete Illustrated Catalogue

This review contributed by A. Bellamy.
Addendum to this review contributed by King Han Gan

Update from Kip Williams, August 2012: "Be aware that this product had a shelf life. After a couple of (mandatory) updates to my operating system, I could no longer view this on a Mac, because it relies on an antiquated version of, I think, QuickTime. I have an old laptop that is kept around largely because it still lets me look at things like this. I found this review while searching for an updated version of the CD-ROM!"

The National Gallery in London is home to a vast, magnificent collection of 700 years of Western European art. Works by Holbein, Leonardo da Vinci, Titian, Rembrandt, Goya, Turner, Renoir and Van Gogh as well as lesser known artists, adorn the walls of the beautiful building by Trafalgar Square. But for art enthusiasts, students and teachers who do not live in the capital, this CD-ROM is an invaluable tool. 2300 works owned by, or on loan to, the Gallery are featured along with accompanying text and technical information about the painting, including a brief biography for each of the 750 artists represented.

The National Gallery's Director, Neil MacGregor, gives an introduction to the collection and there is also a 7 page history of the gallery. There is an easy to follow 'how to use this CD-ROM' section and another on how the Catalogue is organised. There are three ways of getting into the collection; an 'Index' of 4000 terms - subjects, names and key terms; via 'Artists', organised alphabetically and 'Find'. The cross reference facilities are excellent, using 'hot links' and 'Bookmarks' allow the user to compile their own selection of pictures and text for future reference.

The quality of the scans are remarkable and one of the best features of this CD-ROM is the ability to select a particular area of the painting and magnify it for closer inspection. Several images can be shown, allowing the user to compare and contrast different paintings.

This CD-ROM allows detailed study of some of the finest art works ever created since the 13th century in an easy to use, informative and educational format. It is very highly recommended.

Addendum with screen captures by King Han Gan, Rotterdam, The Netherlands:

"The CD Microsoft Art Gallery (1993) and the National Gallery Complete Illustrated Catalogue (NG-CIC) (1997) both feature the collection of the National Gallery in London. Both are based on an in-house computer information system, called the micro-gallery. Both CDs were prepared by the same company, Cognitive Applications Ltd. You might think of NG-CIC as Art Gallery version 2.

Click on thumbnail to view screen captureClick on thumbnail to view screen capture

"As the review points out, NG-CIC has excellent pictures (left above). They can be zoomed to the full resolution of your screen. This is much better than the 640x480 max. size of MS Art Gallery (right above).

"However, the editorial content of MS Art Gallery is much better. For example, I compared the entries for Canaletto's "The Feast day of St Roch" (1735). NG-CIC tells the basic story of the painting: what is the feast day of St Roch, why was it celebrated in Venice and what do we see in the picure. It also points out that the perspective in the picture is impossible in reality.

"MS Art Gallery devotes 3 pages to this painting. Click on thumbnail to view screen captureOf course it also explains the basic facts. But it also gives you background information about Venice (with a little map), about its ruler, the Doge, and about some of the things we see in the picture. Finally, it shows a photograph of the Scuola of St. Roch as it looks in the present day. The photograph makes clear that the perspective in the painting is impossible, because there is a building in the spot where painter (or the viewer) would have to stand to get this view.

"NG-CIC explains why the painting is dated to about 1735. It also gives the provenance of the painting. MS Art Gallery gives an appreciation of the art.

"These differences are illustrative of the entire content of both CDs. NG-CIC - better pictures, MS Art Gallery - better text. NG-CIC unfortunately is also twice as expensive (70 pounds), and I believe MS Art Gallery is out of print."

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