Thursday, October 01, 2020

The Art of the Interactive Painting

The New York Times has released another superb close examantion of an individual painting. Seeing Our Own Reflection in the Birth of the Self-Portrait is a detailed examination of Albrecht Dürer's self portrait of 1500 - "the greatest self-portrait ever painted."

This isn't the first time that the NYT has published a detailed examination of a painting which treats an artwork as if it was an interactive map. Back in June the Times released Taking Lessons From a Bloody Masterpiece, a great scrollytelling crtique of Thomas Eakins' painting 'The Gross Clinic' by art critic Jason Farago. In his latest scrollytelling critique for the Times Farago explores the birth and development of the self-portrait, with particluar emphasis on Dürer's implacable self-portrait.

In both Seeing Our Reflection in the Birth of the Self Portrait and Taking Lessons From a Bloody Masterpiece Farago explores painting in very close detail, using some of the interactive techniques perfected in the development of online interactive mapping. Both of Farago's scrollytelling critiques use image tiles of paintings in an identical manner to the way image map tiles are used for interactive maps. This means that as you zoom in on these paintings you can view ever more detailed images just as you can with interactive maps.

If you are familiar with the Leaflet.js mapping library then you also can create your own interactive painting critiques - using image tiles from paintings instead of map tiles. Museums and art galleries around the world use the iiif format to present artworks as zoomable images. This means that for many works of art, if they have a iiif manifest, you don't even have to create the image map tiles for yourself.

The fantastic leaflet-iiif plugin allows you to seamlessly use iiif manifests with the Leaflet mapping platform.This means that you can quickly turn any painting with a iiif manifest into an interactive Leaflet map. You can view a demo of this in action on my own The Drawing Lesson critique. In this scrollytelling examination of Jan Steen's painting (depicting an artist teaching two young pupils how to draw) I have used the Leaflet mapping library to take a close detailed look at Steen's 17th century Dutch masterpiece.

If, like me, you find it easiest working from other people's code then you can clone my The Drawing Lesson interactive on its Glitch page. To start hacking my interactive painting look for the iiif manifest URL in the JavaScript code and try replacing it with the manifest for another painting or image.

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