Culture’s Molly Schoenfeld suggests the top five virtual tours offered by Museums and Galleries online
Grab your quizzical expression and laptop, and let’s mooch around the globes online museums. Courtesy of Covid-19, the majority of major museums worldwide have shut their doors. Instead, there have been efforts to create virtual tours of their galleries and artefacts online. Maybe your primary concern at the moment is not that you can no longer wander around the Sistine chapel, but why not spend this share time learning something new from your sofa (whilst also avoiding the usual museum queues)?
There is a huge variety of museums available to browse online, ranging from the Schnitzel Museum in Vienna (which manages to spend a remarkable amount of time analysing the dish) to the Museum of Broken Relationships (featuring a bizarre range of items from peoples’ ex-partners, including a ‘toaster of vindication’). This list of five virtual museums is only scratching the surface, but hopefully it might be a starting point for your journey of cultural exploration.
1.Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum, Madrid
This virtual tour is so realistic that you catch yourself wanting to visit the café. Whilst being incredibly easy to use, the virtual platform also beautifully captures the museum’s dusky pink walls and views of majestic palm trees from the windows. There are 78 different exhibitions from previous years which have been uploaded. The most recent exhibition, Rembrandt and Amsterdam portraiture, 1590-1670, is spectacular, with over 80 paintings, some of which have never been on display in Europe before. By clicking on the paintings and listening to the dulcet tones of the audio-guide, a great deal can be learnt.
By clicking on the paintings and listening to the dulcet tones of the audio-guide, a great deal can be learnt. A personal favourite is the exhibition: Balenciaga and Spanish Painting from June 2019. It features stunning designer dresses alongside equally stylish Spanish paintings from the early modern period. If you are amongst the many people whose summer holidays have been cancelled, this tour is certainly for you: soak up the (virtual) sun rays and admire the views of Madrid whilst immersing yourself in elegant European art.
2.The Vatican Museums, Rome
Experience the splendour of the Sistine Chapel and the genius of Raphael in this 360 virtual tour of some of the most visited museums in the world. Whilst this tour does not contain reels of information about the items on display, the artefacts and rooms which it features are visually fascinating themselves, meaning that it is enough to sit back and gaze in awe at the vaulted ceilings. If your intellectual appetite is not satisfied, you can study to your heart’s content the online Vatican Museums Catalogue for free. Parts of the tour include the Stanze di Raffaello, created by Raphael, and the ornate Room of Chiascuro, along with plenty of Renaissance art and Roman sculptures. With queues normally lasting between one and three hours in the heat, take this opportunity to enjoy these spectacular sights from the comfort of your home.
3. J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles
With a huge selection of art ranging from the early middle ages to the present, this interactive tour of one of the richest museums in the world is by no means modest. This tour is part of Google Arts and Culture, which not only allows you to browse sites of cultural interests, but catalogues artefacts and art. For example, the J. Paul Getty tour is accompanied by a catalogue of 15,746 items to browse for free. Looking around the museum itself is a true Hollywood experience, with several floors of glitzy, gold-gilded rooms filled to the brim with renowned artwork. The tour is quite interactive, with interesting information appearing next to some of the art and high-definition versions of the paintings available for study. So, why not listen to some vintage Hollywood jazz and admire the opulence and glamour of this impressive museum.
4. Natural History Museum, London
If you have not yet managed to see the fascinating skeletons of ‘Hope’ the Giant Blue Whale or ‘Dippy’ the Diplodocus, now is your chance. This tour, as part of Google Arts and Culture, allows you to view many of the specimens up-close, from the giant skeleton of a mammoth to the smallest species in The Hummingbird Display, accompanied by beautiful Victorian terracotta architecture. There are also an impressive 298,857 items in the catalogue and some fascinating exhibits available for viewing, including the Human Evolution exhibition. This tour is a true Night at the Museum experience, giving you the opportunity to wander alone amongst the marvels of nature (perhaps substituting the cheeky capuchin monkey of the film with your cat or dog, unfortunately).
5. National Palace Museum, Taipei City
Lose yourself in classic Chinese timberwork and wander through the Garden of Compassion and Tranquillity. This spectacular selection of virtual exhibits from the National Palace Museum, which is home to one of the largest collections of Chinese artefacts and artwork, is truly mesmerising. What makes this virtual tour so unique is that it combines views of the interior and the exterior of the museum, both of which are equally stunning. Many of the artefacts in the museum even have accompanying information in English.
The exhibition Across the Silk Road is particularly interesting, as are all the other exhibits. Nevertheless, you will have to use your imagination with the Studio of Cleansing Fragrances. Most imposingly, there is an online tour of the lantern display from outside the walls of the Forbidden City. The beautiful scenery, a fascinating range of artefacts and soothing piano music combine to form a calming tonic to the current chaos of the world.
With worrying news headlines appearing every hour on our phones, these virtual tours provide some much-needed relaxation. During lockdown, being mentally active is equally as important as physical exercise and these virtual cultural experiences will do just that. The beautiful artefacts, art and museums available for browsing are a welcome reminder that our world is still a beautiful place to be. This current period of chaos is only a brief episode in time, as demonstrated by the centuries of history on display.
More generally in the arts industry, there is a pressure for the democratization of art by making it available to everyone, no matter what their socio-economic background is. These virtual tours may be the way forward: whether it be schools unable to afford class museum trips or people physically unable to travel, everyone can enjoy the wonders of history, despite the world’s significant lack of producing wonders at this time.
For more inspiration on how to pass your days in Lockdown…