Monday, October 29, 2007

See the "Last Supper" with 16 billion pixels

There's no need to travel to Italy and wait in line for hours. The Last Supper by Leonardo da Vinci, one of the most famous works of art of all time, can now be seen by all, in all its details, on the website: (Italian for "high definition.")

The highest definition photograph ever (16 billion pixels, compared to 10 million pixels in a typical good digital camera) lets viewers enlarge and observe any portion of the painting, giving a clear view of sections down to as little as one square millimeter.

The project started at the beginning of 2007, as a result of a meeting between the Ministry of Cultural Assets and Activities, De Agostini (a publisher), and HAL9000 (a digital imaging company named after the killer computer in Stanley Kubrick's film 2001: A Space Odyssey).

The ultra-high-resolution photography has several benefits: it provides monitoring the state of the painting; it allows anyone on the Internet to observe all the parts and details of the work; and HAL9000 can create large high-quality fine art prints with detail never possible before.

Located in a former monks' dining hall adjacent to a church in Milan, the 500-year-old mural depicts Jesus and disciples at a Passover "seder" meal. It represents a scene as narrated in the Gospel of John, when Jesus announces that one of his twelve disciples would betray him. Da Vinci painted the reactions of each apostle, with various degrees of anger and shock.

The photograph of one of the most delicate and protected works in the world, is the result of many months of work and research, when lighting and photography techniques were developed.

The protection of the painting was the prime concern to HAL9000 technicians and the Architectural Assets Office. The photographic system was inspected by the Environmental Control and Physics Laboratory at the Central Restoration Institute in Rome, which decided the system was suitable.

The project was made possible with the assistance of various partners: AMD, which provided high-tech processing technology; Clauss, a German company which provided high-precision orientation technology; De Agostini, which provided web and communication support; I-Net, which provided Internet access; and Nikon, which provided photographic equipment.

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