Virtual Museum Tours

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One of the coolest, yet apparently least-known, things you can do with your computer or portable device is taking virtual tours of the world’s great museums and art collections—many of them, for FREE! Through various apps and websites, you can view famous and celebrated works of art, culture and natural history, with added benefits you wouldn’t have if you were to visit those works in person.

Virtual museum tours feature professionally-photographed collections with descriptions and background facts provided by art historians and museum curators. Most museum virtual tours allow you to zoom in too, to view fine details you’d probably miss from behind the velvet rope or from outside the Plexiglas display case. Even better, you can spend as much time as you like poring over this or that “display” and skip right past the “exhibits” that don’t interest you!

Even if you’ve visited the Getty in person, this app is MUCH better than any souvenir tour book you might’ve picked up in the gift shop.

 

Virtual Museum Tour Apps

The online tours are generally free, while museum tour apps can be free or cost you a few bucks—but remember, each time you buy a museum app you’re being a patron of the arts! Also, one advantage apps have over online virtual tours is that you don’t need to have an active internet connection to use them. So if your plan is to tour the great museums during commute time or between classes, these are the better way to go. I’m linking to Android versions of the apps here (these will run on Kindle Fire devices as well as Android devices), but the same apps should be available for Apple devices in the iTunes store.

 

The J. Paul Getty Museum Highlights of the Collections

**UPDATE 6/23/14** This app is no longer being offered. If it becomes available again, I’ll update the links. Sorry!

Explore 150 Highlights of the Getty Museum’s Collections

From treasures of the ancient world and medieval manuscripts to Renaissance drawings, French furniture, Impressionist paintings, iconic American photographs, and much more, this app gives you access to 150 of the most beloved objects in the Getty’s collection.

Each object is presented with an image and a brief discussion, and some also include audio commentary and multiple views.

This multiplatform app brings the Getty’s most extraordinary artworks and the expertise of its curators to your fingertips.

Features:
– Works by Bernini, Leonardo da Vinci, Gauguin, Hockney, Lange, Man Ray, Michelangelo, Raphael, Rembrandt, Renoir, Stieglitz, Titian, Turner, Warhol, and many others

– Nearly 200 images

– Audio commentary on selected works

– Videos that take you behind the scenes at the Getty Center and Getty Villa and explore the life of J. Paul Getty

This app has an amazing breadth and depth of content.

 

British Library Treasures

In partnership with Toura, the British Library presents Treasures, its first app for the Android. Treasures includes over 100 highlights from collections at the British Library, including literary, historical, music-related and scientific documents, alongside illuminated manuscripts and sacred texts, presented through high-resolution images that allow viewers to zoom in and explore in detail.

Literature:
Literary content includes Charles Dickens’ handwritten draft of Nicholas Nickleby, and Jane Austen’s teenage writings. Key historical documents include 2000-year-old Oracle Bones from China, an original Magna Carta of 1215, Elizabeth I’s famous Tilbury speech before the Spanish Armada, and a recording of suffragette Christabel Pankhurst’s speech after her release from prison.

The Music Arts
The section devoted to music includes manuscript scores from some of the best-known classical composers, such as Handel, Purcell, Mozart, and Schubert, along with calypso and traditional folk music. A section devoted to maps showcases exclusive views from the collection.

Manuscripts
Christian texts include the Codex Sinaiticus, the Lindisfarne Gospels, and the Gutenberg Bible. Other faiths are represented by the Golden Haggadah, Sultan Baybars’ Qur’an, and Buddhist, Daoist, Hindu, Sikh, and Zoroastrian manuscripts.

Science
Scientific documents, generally less well-known, explore fields such as astronomy, botany, zoology, and medicine. They include manuscripts, notebooks, and letters revealing some of the key scientific developments of all time, including Fleming’s discovery of penicillin, and Copernicus’s and Galileo’s findings on the structure of the cosmos.

Audio History
This app also includes sound recordings and nearly 50 short videos — all WiFi-enabled. They include interviews with British Library curators, linguist David Crystal, and TV presenter and explorer Ben Fogle.

 

These apps are free, as of this writing:

 

This app lets you curate your own virtual galleries, then tour them—and as of this writing, it’s FREE!

ErgsArt – Greatest Artworks at your fingertips!

• 7100 artworks (paintings, drawings, sculptures, etc.)

• select multiple artists or see artworks at random

• slideshow, zoom, see detailed views, bookmark / share artworks with attachment via email / social apps, set as wallpaper …

• select multiple artworks to see or share/bookmark/unbookmark

• see related artworks (different parts of David sculpture or parts of the Sistine Chapel or different representations of Leda by Da Vinci…etc) or suggestions

• voice recognition, search for artworks (title, artist name, location, media types, date, location: “garden monet 186” for monet’s paintings about garden in 60’s; “drawing vinci” for Da vinci drawings; “louvre vinci” for Da Vinci artworks located in Louvre…etc)

• statistics: see popular artworks to discover (most viewed and most downloaded artworks)

• Game : play with artworks directly in the app !

Yep, Corning, that same company that makes the glassware used in labs and consumer kitchens, has its own museum!

 

Corning Museum of Glass

Explore 35 centuries of glass art.

This app from The Corning Museum of Glass showcases more than 100 highlights of the world’s best glass museum, from an ancient Egyptian glass portrait of a pharaoh to Venetian glass masterpieces to works by modern and contemporary artists like Louis Comfort Tiffany, Emile Galle, Dale Chihuly, and Josiah McElheny.

There is a section with child-friendly audio content.

This museum is all about the history, sights and technology of California.

 

 

Oakland Museum of California

Experience firsthand the wonders of the Oakland Museum of California (OMCA) with this interactive app! Having just completed an extensive renovation and expansion, OMCA offers visitors an innovative way to discover and enjoy the many facets of the Golden State’s art, history, and natural sciences.

This app features a look at the newly reinvented Gallery of California Natural Sciences, complete with videos and slide shows. You’ll also find an interactive map that reveals not only the offerings on each of OMCA’s floors but also the delights to be found near the Museum, around beautiful Lake Merritt. Learn the story of the Museum’s transformation, and get a sneak peek at upcoming exhibitions.

And to personalize the museum-going experience for you, we invite you to join three very different groups of people as they discover how to make the most of their OMCA experience.

 

Free Online Museum Tours

Most of these virtual tours are offered by museum websites. They’re all free, but they also require internet access. On the plus side, the collections of online virtual tours tend to be a lot bigger than what you get in an app. You can feel free to click on the links below, each will open in a new browser window.

The Louvre

The Vatican Museum

The Smithsonian Museum of Natural History

The Drop Zone Virtual Museum (WW II Airborne)

Galileo Museum of Science and Technology

The Holocaust Museum

National Gallery of Art – If you’re into art and you only have time to visit ONE of these websites, this is the one I’d recommend.

The Henry Ford Museum Online Exhibits Collection

The Google Art Project

 

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5 Comments

  1. Comment by Ann K. Schwader:

    ErgsArt seems to have ads on it. Didn’t notice them at first when I downloaded this to my Fire HD, but then a banner ad appeared. Not sure I’ll keep it on my Fire.

    • Comment by Mom:

      Yes, but isn’t it fair for the app developer to get some form of compensation for his or her work in creating the app?

      • Comment by Ann K. Schwader:

        Completely fair. I was just concerned about battery life on my Fire, as per an earlier post of yours about free apps vs. paid apps & energy use. Maybe there will be a paid version offered later to remove the ads?

        Thanks for this article!

        • Comment by Mom:

          Unfortunately, not all developers provide a paid version. But you can try turning off your wifi connection to stop the ads; it may render the app useless, but in apps that allow users to download content, it’s an easy fix for battery conservation. I keep the wifi off on my Kindle Fire most of the time.

  2. Comment by Lady Liberty (@MBarris01):

    Thank you so much for this article! I love art and history and this page is a wonderful resource!