For the past hour, I’ve been avoiding work by browsing this amazingly high-resolution scan of Johannes Vermeer’s iconic Girl with a Pearl Earring. With a total resolution of 93,205 x 108,565, PetaPixel notes the scan is believed to be the first 10 billion pixel (10-gigapixel) panorama ever created, allowing you to zoom in close enough to turn the tiniest flecks of paint into puddles and minuscule cracks into crevasses. The scan appears to have been posted online early last year.
The Mauritshuis art gallery, which normally houses the work, recently had to temporarily close due to COVID restrictions. But for the time being, this scan is a nice replacement. In some ways, it’s actually better, letting you press your virtual nose up against the painting in a way that’d get you thrown out of most art galleries or scolded by an irate assistant at the very least.
The scan is the work of Hirox’s Emilien Leonhardt and Vincent Sabatier, who photographed the painting using a high-resolution microscope back in March 2018. Scanning the painting involved taking around 9,100 photographs of it using a high-resolution microscope before stitching them together. The resulting scan allowed the team to assess its condition, learn more about Vermeer’s painting technique, and understand past restorations of the work. You can learn more about the scanning process in the short video Hirox published below:
The 2D image is one thing, but where things get especially interesting is with the 3D scans, which cover 10 specific areas of the painting like the subject’s eyes and iconic earring. These scans let you peer at sections of the painting from any angle and see that its apparent flat surface is anything but, thanks to the layers of dried paint that make up the painting. There’s even a small virtual light you can drag around inside the program to see how these surface imperfections cast a shadow over their surrounding area.
To learn more about what these scans and other technical research show about this painting, check out this blog post from the Mauritshuis last year. Meanwhile, the rest of the museum has also been digitized, with 36 masterpieces available to view in detail.