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Genesis of European Art : the Flemish contribution - Flanders



The use of interactive multimedia allows users to examine details, and compare works, in a variety of ways - in this example, for instance, to look at other works by Rembrandt, or another treatment of the story of Tobias and the Angel
The Genesis of European Art The Flemish Connection looks primarily at paintings and drawings produced by Flemish artists between the 14th and 17th centuries, and the influence of their work on Europe's artistic heritage.

The disc brings together some thousand images from museums and galleries throughout Europe and the US, with background information and commentary by a team of distinguished scholars.

The use of interactive multimedia allows users to examine details, and compare works, in a variety of ways - in this example, for instance, to look at other works by Rembrandt, or another treatment of the story of Tobias and the Angel

The consortium producing The Genesis of European Art combines impeccable academic credentials with an impressive track record in the production of fine books and videodiscs. Gemeentekrediet and Réunion des Musées Nationaux are leading publishers of books on the fine arts, and the four authors of the textual resources include two curators from the Louvre.

Since 1987, ODA-Laser Edition has produced some of the bestknown interactive LaserDiscs, with a three-volume set on the Louvre, and subsequent titles on the Musée d'Orsay, Musée de l'Homme (Muséum National d'Histoire Naturelle), Picasso and Rodin.


Like a growing number of multimedia titles on topics of such interest, The Genesis of European Art will be distributed through shops and mail order facilities in two increasingly convergent sectors - that is, alongside both books and computer software. It will also be promoted and distributed through a third distinct channel, to the educational market. Like several other IMPACT 2 titles, the package is not tied to any particular curriculum, but has considerable potential as a resource for classroom activities and research.


The Genesis of European Art is a genuinely scholarly resource made widely accessible through the use of interactivity.

By comparison to the more familiar work of book publishing, The Genesis of European Art will be produced more like an academic work than a coffee table book for the general market. The package focuses on four major artists - van Eyck, Bruegel, Rubens and Rembrandt -to examine 400 years of Flemish painting and drawing. After some deliberation, the consortium elected to publish the thousand or so images and accompanying texts on four separate discs - one for each artist and his century - with the view that some users will be primarily or even exclusively interested in one rather than all four volumes.

The technical requirements of the delivery system, equally, reflect de facts standards in professional and academic rather than the broadest consumer and educational markets. The CD-ROM package is being developed for use with Macintosh or PC-compatible computers, but the sheer volume of digital data involved in such visually complex material requires a fairly fast and powerful machine - in technical terms, one with at least 8MB of RAM and 80486SX (PC) or 68030 (Mac) processors running at 25mHz, as well as a CD-ROM drive. This represents a reasonable standard for multimedia computing on the desktop, but outstrips the capacity of many older delivery systems.

Apple's proprietary QuickTime compression software helps to contain the vast amount of digital data required. It is obvious that, as digital data on a computer or compact disc, moving footage and audio can consume a good deal of storage space and processing power; however, still images which contain as many subtle colour tones and as much fine detail as these Flemish paintings can also represent very large data files. Among the software-offly compression technologies which help to reduce the actual amount of data required to store and process images, QuickTime has an advantage in being accessible to both Macs and PCs.


While some IMPACT 2 projects were free - or even obliged - to create most or all of their own visual resources, this project obviously comprises a great many images which are controlled by the specific museums and galleries where the original works are now held, or by picture libraries with their own photographic reproductions.

André Hatala of Laser Edition estimates that some 80 per cent. of the images in this collection were acquired from such institutions and agencies. "The biggest problem is finding the rights," he says. Like other multimedia developers, he has observed that "the rights are much higher than for book publishing, even though the market is not even that 'real' yet".

He also reports that some institutions are more or less helpful than others, a factor which makes projects such as this particularly vulnerable to the demands of individual rights-holders.

At the same time, with so much experience of interactive video and its uneasy combination of analogue and digital technologies, Hatala is encouraged by developments in multimedia. "It is easier to produce CD-ROM," he says, "because everything is digital. And it also very different for the end-user: this really is an interactive medium."




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