Tuesday, December 01, 2020

Scrollytelling Paintings

Jason Farago of the New York Times has released yet another scrollytelling critique of a famous work of art. In previous critiques Farago has closely examined Katsushika Hokusai's "Thirty-Six Views of Mount Fuji" (in A Picture of Change for a World in Constant Motion), an Albrecht Dürer self portrait (in Seeing Our Own Reflection in the Birth of the Self-Portrait), and Thomas Eakins' painting 'The Gross Clinic' (in Taking Lessons From a Bloody Masterpiece).

In Farago's latest close reading of an art work he explores 'The Death of General Wolfe', painted by Benjamin West in 1770. In The Myth of North America, in One Painting Farago uses techniques originally developed for displaying interactive online maps to explore West's painting in fine detail. As you scroll through Farago's critique you also zoom-in and pan around the painting The Death of General Wolf, just as you might zoom and pan around on Google Maps.

While zooming in on individual details of the painting Farago recounts the history of the Battle of the Plains of Abraham and closely examines how Benjamin West helps create a mythical depiction of the battle and the last moments of a general "dying so that Britain may rule the world".

If you are familiar with the Leaflet.js mapping library then you can also create your own interactive painting critiques - using image tiles from paintings instead of the usual 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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