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Multi-Year Partnership Between The State Hermitage Museum and IBM Unveiled

"Besides the paintings and the Raphael Loggia, my museum in the Hermitage contains 38,000 books; there are four rooms filled with books and prints, 10,000 engraved gems, roughly 10,000 drawings and a natural history collection that fills two large galleries."
-- a note sent by Catherine the Great to her agent in 1790

St. Petersburg, Russia, June 15, 1999 -- A digital library of high-resolution masterpieces, a first of-its-kind web site, an image creation studio, multimedia navigation-kiosks, and an education and technology center are the major elements of a nearly $2 million IBM technology grant to the State Hermitage Museum. The grant positions the Hermitage as one of the most technologically proficient museums in the world.

Today, at an event at the Hermitage in St. Petersburg, Dr. Mikhail Piotrovsky, Director of the State Hermitage Museum, and IBM's Bill Etherington, Senior Vice President and Group Executive, Sales and Distribution, will unveil the results of a multi-year project involving the collaborative development of new technologies by IBM researchers in Russia, Italy, Israel and the U.S., as well as Hermitage museum art researchers.

This includes the launch of a new virtual Hermitage Museum on the World Wide Web -- a site (www.hermitagemuseum.org) that makes it possible for anyone in the world with an Internet browser to view more than 2,000 masterpieces and treasures -- from ancient Russian icons to highlights of French impressionists. The complete Hermitage collection of three million works of art will eventually be digitized and added to the library.

The State Hermitage Museum web site features a searchable IBM DB2 Digital Library database of high-resolution images from 12 different categories of works of art (painting, sculpture, jewelry, etc.). This database enables Internet users to access, view, study and magnify the smallest image features from a standard PC. With its Java-based applications, the Hermitage web site allows visitors to zoom in on artwork for a detailed look or access a feature called PanoramIX, which allows for virtual reality tours of halls that have been photographed in three dimensions. Visitors may also search the Digital Library using IBM's QBIC (Query By Image Content) technology, allowing queries based on selecting various color proportions or using geometric shapes to approximate the visual organization of the work of art (instead of searches merely based on the name of an artist or painting). To protect the rights of the Hermitage and deter unauthorized use, images of the artwork on the museum web site will be invisibly watermarked with a patented data hiding technology from IBM.

Also available today is a new Education & Technology Center on the first floor of the Winter Palace of the Hermitage. The Center is a computerized learning area that can accommodate seven visitors simultaneously and run fully interactive educational curricula in both Russian (Cyrillic) and English. These curricula are designed to make it possible for users to visually compare works of art belonging to different museum exhibitions based on the same subject-- from the Gospels or from ancient myths. This comparison enables users to follow the evolution of the various interpretations of the subject matter. Also, a zoom function enables viewers to look at the art from different angles and in sharper detail, allowing discernment of details that is often impossible to achieve at live exhibitions.

At the very core of the Hermitage Museum Image Creation Studio, the third piece of the technology grant, is a unique digital camera and lighting environment. The studio's digital camera, part of a capture system called the Pro/3000 Scanner, uses specially designed color filters that allow it to record the color from a piece of art in a manner modeled after that of the human visual system--delivering color accuracy an order of magnitude better than that of the best conventional photography. Software developed by a group of scientists at IBM's T.J. Watson lab in New York subsequently reduces and compresses the scanned images, without changing their color. They are then stored in the Digital Library database on IBM RS/6000 computers.

The fourth piece of the Hermitage's new technology infrastructure announced today includes four multimedia Visitor Information Kiosks that are installed within the Hermitage Museum buildings. These kiosks allow museum visitors to learn more about museum news and events, explore the museum through its highlights, collections, and floor maps, and take suggested and individualized tours. The kiosk application also provides navigational information about routes from the kiosk locations to museum highlights in the form of floor maps and text descriptions. Navigation information is generated dynamically, based on daily updates of halls and works of art that are currently available. All information is provided in both Russian and English languages.

"Today, it is with great pride that we present the Hermitage to our visitors with a new focus, one that will showcase not only the unique art collections and the residence of former Russian Czars but which will serve as a model of the organic synthesis of leading-edge computer technologies and the marvelous artistic legacy of past centuries," said Piotrovsky.

"IBM is delighted to have been part of this project which has brought a unique, networked solution of innovative technologies to this world-class museum," said Etherington. "Now that we have opened the doors of the Hermitage Museum to the entire world, it is our hope that everyone, from scholars and curators to children and teachers around the world, will use this technology to study and appreciate the Hermitage and its treasures."


 
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The Hermitage
 
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Related Links:
The official homepage of the State Hermitage Museum: www.hermitagemuseum.org

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