Get Your Cultural Fix: Five Fantastic Museums to Visit During COVID-19
Updated: Apr 27, 2020
Clearly, the world knows we need a cultural boost right now. We are all suffering from the effects of COVID-19, whether directly or indirectly, and no country has been left untouched. Fortunately, with the amazing abilities of technology and the ingenuity of designers, developers and programmers all over the world, we can experience spectacular museums and sate our cultural appetite all while we follow social distancing restrictions. Here are five fantastic museums to explore while you're staying safe at home. Grab your coffee, put on some cozy slippers, and get inspired. Happy travels!
We begin our morning with a trip to Paris, to see some amazing exhibits at the great Louvre Museum. If you're not super familiar with the Louvre, it's considered the world's largest art museum, and it deserves its title. Located near the Arc de Triomphe in the heart of the Paris, the Louvre plays host to an enormous collection of art, sculpture and antiquities. The Venus de Milo, Liberty Leading the People and the Mona Lisa are just a few of the famous works of art that live here. The Museum is housed in the Louvre Palace (built back in the 12th and 13th centuries), and has an ever-recognizable glass pyramid entrance. Waiting times here are usually insane and visitors must reserve tickets well in advance.
Fortunately for us, we have no line during our visit to the Louvre today. We rub elbows with no tourists, and we're able to spend as long as we want looking at the exhibits. Like many museums around the world, the Louvre has shut its doors, and instead welcomes visitors through a series of digital experiences in the form of videos, panoramic photos and 360° gallery tours.
BEGIN WITH A VIRTUAL TOUR
Start your visit with a quick scan of the museum map, and gain appreciation for just how much talent these walls hold. Take your pick from four virtual tours* (or participate in all of them); you can pause your visit or go back and revisit a gallery at any time. Begin in the Louvre's Petite Galerie and see the 'Advent of the Artist' exhibit. Use the series of arrows to navigate the exhibit space, and click on the magnifying glass and question mark icons on either side of an artwork to see it up close and read information about the artist. Next, cruise over to the Egyptian Antiquities wing and hang out with the pharaohs. Finally, enjoy the delicate architecture of the Rotonde, which leads to a series of rooms presenting the history of the Louvre as a palace and museum. Finish your tour by gawking at the incredible painted ceiling of the Galerie d'Apollon, which was destroyed by a fire in 1661 and rebuilt. Use the orange navigation bars at the top of the window to see highlights of the impressive stucco work, paintings, restoration projects and, to top if all off, an up-close view of the gilded restored masterpiece. *Enable Flash player on your web browser to experience the virtual content at the Louvre.
EXPLORE MORE WITH A VIDEO
Take advantage of the Louvre's video library, both on their website video page, and also on their Youtube channel. You can watch short films about sculpture, metalworking and paintings in one of 70+ videos on the website, and the Youtube channel hosts a nice mix of presentations on exhibits, discussions with museum conservators and video shorts on art techniques. I've created my own Louvre playlist on Youtube that will give you many additional walk-through gallery views and insight into the Louvre's marvelous collections.
IMMERSE YOURSELF IN A 360° VISIT WITH THE MONA LISA
To commemorate the 500-year anniversary of the death of Leonard da Vinci, the Louvre gathered an array of the artist's paintings to create a retrospective of his career, and highlight the importance he placed on the science behind painting. You can get a great overview of the exhibit in video form here, or page through the booklet from the exhibit here. Take advantage of the Louvre's virtual reality experience, and get up close and personal with Da Vinci's most famous masterpiece, the Mona Lisa. Download and install the free app on your Android or iOs (search for "Mona Lisa: Beyond the Glass" in your app store), and enjoy the experience, which will give you a quick background on the Louvre, and show you the famous work of art up close.
BONUS: ENJOY A CONCERT
The Louvre Museum has provided a selection of concerts filmed at the Louvre Auditorium for you to enjoy throughout the COVID-19 lockdown. Grab your headphones or reach for the remote and turn up the volume. Enjoy the music here.
Our next stop is to New York's famed Metropolitan Museum of Art, located on the upper east side of Manhattan. With its iconic marble column exterior and grand entrance hall, the Met has an incredible collection of Greek and Roman sculpture, Egyptian art (including an entire Egyptian temple), Near Eastern and European statuary, contemporary and medieval paintings and an impressive arms and armor gallery. Though not as large as the Louvre, The Met is big enough and houses enough artifacts that it's impossible to see everything in one go. Believe me when I say that I tried (and failed) to do so during repeated research visits while studying ancient history at one of New York's great universities. I can honestly say that no matter how many times you visit this great museum, you'll always see and learn something new. The Met has also been the subject of several great heist films, including The Thomas Crown Affair and most recently the all-female addition to the Ocean's franchise.
GET AN OVERVIEW
Start your visit with a glance at the museum's nifty interactive map. Understand that the Met Museum system actually encompasses three museums -- the Metropolitan Museum of Art (located on Fifth Avenue), the Cloisters (located in the Bronx) and the Breuer Galleries (located on Madison Avenue). You can get a quick glimpse of the Cloisters in this 360° video that has views of the galleries (with beautiful stained glass windows), the cloister courtyard, and the herb gardens outside. You can also get an overview of the Met Breuer (home to modern and contemporary art) in this short 360° video. I hope you enjoy the typical New York traffic jam at the beginning of the video (rotate the view behind you to see it).
TAKE A WALK THROUGH THE MUSEUM WITH THE 'MET 360° PROJECT'
At times like these, when all three of the Met's locations are closed due to COVID-19, the Met is proud of their award-winning series of short videos that allow viewers to see some of their most iconic exhibits. Head to the Met 360° Project page on their website, and start with the video of the Great Hall; the main entrance of the Fifth Avenue Museum was designed by Architect Richard Morris in 1902. You'll get a feel for what this place is like on a normal day (with tourists pouring in through the columned entrance). The Met sees an impressive six million plus visitors a year, and they all file through this entrance. Don't forget to pan around within the video to look left and right, up and down and behind you; you may even notice some anxious museum guards making sure you don't touch the artwork.
Next, skip down to the Temple of Dendur video (direct link here) to see the amazing Egyptian Temple that, dating from 15 B.C. and originally located in Nubia, was removed and relocated (brick by brick) to its current home inside the Museum. An amazing feat of archaeological reconstruction and engineering, the architecture of the room was designed specifically to look like the Temple's original surroundings in Nubia. You may also recognize this room as the setting of the Met Gala dinner in the Ocean's 8 film -- it's the scene where the famous necklace is "rediscovered" by Sarah Paulson. Learn more about the collections of Egyptian art located in this part of the Museum; they include statues, cartouches, manuscripts and even a few mummies. (If you want to have a tad more control as to where exactly within this room you can walk around, head over to Google's street view and glide around the Temple of Dendur.)
If you're a fan of American art and sculpture, check out the Charles Engelhard Court video (it's just below the Met Breuer on the same page; direct link here). The American Wing of the Met has 20,000 works of art ranging from the colonial to early-modern periods; you can learn more about the collections here. There's a gilded sculpture of Diana on a pedestal, Tiffany stained-glass windows and fabulous mosaics. Can you see the two artists at work on their easels? That's a pretty typical things to see here at the Met.
Finally, head over to the Arms and Armor galleries of the Met (the last video on the page; direct link here). Who doesn't love to see knights in shining armor (literally) especially when they're riding through the room on horseback? (I've always loved this part of the Museum, but since it's usually the thing I see at the end of the day, I'm used to getting kicked out by the guards. Not today!) Check out the collection of swords, pistols, and gilded crests from Europe, the Middle East, Asia and America as you glide around the exhibit. Learn more about the collection and what's on view here.
DELVE DEEPER WITH THE 'PRIMER', VIDEO CLIPS & AUDIO TOURS
Explore specific exhibits and installations at the Met with the Met Primer. The primer gives you behind-the-scenes info and views of the new British galleries, paintings from the Dutch Golden Age and a discussion on why we paint by contemporary artist Gerhard Richter.
Still not satisfied? The Met has provided over 1,500 videos ranging in topic from drawing the Met's iconic exterior using perspective to conserving Degas's famous ballerina sculpture (did you know the original sculpture that was displayed in 1881 had a fabric skirt and a human-hair wig?) If it's a treat for the ears you're after, listen to an audio tour of one of a number of exhibits and areas in Museum.
CHECK OUT AN ONLINE EXHIBIT WITH GOOGLE ARTS & CULTURE
Google has partnered with the Metropolitan Museum of Art to create online exhibits and digital archives for a number of subject matter. Exhibits include costumes and fashion, music through time and Dutch painters. Visual archives contain images of paintings and drawings, statuary and embroidery, engravings, pottery and metalworking. Check out the Met Museum on Google.
BONUS: ENJOY A CONCERT
As the icing on the cake for our visit, the Metropolitan Museum of Art is planning to host their Balcony Bar concert series from home. The concerts, normally taking place on a second-floor balcony overlooking the Great Hall in the Museum, will (for the time being) be hosted online, and will take place every Friday night from 5-5:30pm EST. Fix yourself a drink, and enjoy the music. There's no need to register, just check this link for information.
Our third stop to get our cultural fix takes us back across the pond, this time to the great city of London. The British Museum is somewhere I've longed to go, and so I was particularly excited to see the content they had available for a digital visit. Known for being the world's oldest national public museum, The British Museum was founded in 1753 to house the collection of Sir Hans Sloane, and today includes treasures from Egypt, Greece, Rome, Asia, Europe, the Middle East and the Americas. Some of the Museum's most famous residents include sculptures from the Parthenon, an original Easter Island statue, and of course the famous Rosetta Stone, but there is so much to see here, that the list goes on and on.
GET AN OVERVIEW & LISTEN TO AN AUDIO TOUR OR PODCAST
Begin with a quick view of the Museum map. The British Museum contains three floors, and houses over eight million works of art. Collections are split into sections corresponding to areas and time periods. You can check out an audio tour that highlights artifacts from specific rooms in the museum, available for a small fee on Apple Music or Google Play, or listen in to one of the Museum's free podcasts. They range in topic, and are available on Soundcloud and Apple.
WALK THROUGH THE MUSEUM WITH A 360° GOOGLE STREET VIEW
If there's a contest for the most spaces within a museum you can visit virtually, then the British Museum wins hands down. With the Google Street View, you can take your pick of more than 60 galleries that are available to walk through at your leisure. Stand tall next to winged sculptures from the Assyrian capital at Nimrud (they used to decorate the palace of King Tiglath-Pileser III, who reigned from 744-727 BC), check out the Lewis Chessmen (a series of walrus ivory-carved chessmen from 1150-1175), be impressed by the intricacy of the double-headed serpent mosaic from Mexico (it was carved from one piece of cedar before being decorated with turquoise, coral and shell) and pay homage to the Museum's most famous resident, the Rosetta Stone (its inscriptions in Egyptian hieroglyphs, Demotic and Greek served as the key to deciphering and understanding Egyptian hieroglyphics for the first time). Want to see some mummies? The Museum has a collection of 140 mummies and sarcophagi, many of which are on display in the Egyptian wing. With so much to see here, you will not be disappointed. And the best part is - as the Museum's blog puts it - the virtual walk gives you the advantage of seeing the collection when the Museum is "blissfully quiet".
Start at the main entrance on Great Russell Street, and walk through to the Great Court, admiring the columned entryway and the painted ceilings of the foyer on the way. The Great Court was originally designed to be a garden, but the building of book stacks in 1852 led to the this spot eventually becoming home of the Museum's library department. The Court's iconic glass and steel roof is made from 3,212 panes of glass, and its construction began in 1999, during a redesign of the space. Hang a left around the round Reading Room (keeping it on your right) and across from the collections shop, you'll come to the entrance of the Ancient Egyptian Art wing. This is the home of the Rosetta Stone, and it's the first thing you'll see when you enter the room. Have a look left or right and gain appreciation for just how much Egyptian sculpture is here; the gallery actually continues far behind the Rosetta Stone. From this spot, you can roam about freestyle, or use any of the tour spots on the strip on the bottom of the Street View to quickly navigate to a specific spot in the Museum. Jump over to the Greek galleries and see the fantastic collection of friezes from the Parthenon in Greece (eighth image in the strip), or use the navigation arrow all the way on the right edge of the strip to see more options. There are over 30 different access points you can jump to, and all of them will allow you to roam about the galleries in 360°. Click on any "X" you see on the ground to be taken to that spot in the room, or look for navigation arrows on the floor that will tell you in which direction(s) you can move. (You may want to keep a copy of the museum map nearby, just in case you get lost while you roam.)
TAKE A VIRTUAL TOUR OF THE GALLERIES
Pair your Street View walk through the Museum with a more in-depth look at the galleries you're roaming around. The British Museum has created virtual tours for specific rooms, each with an overview of the gallery's contents and in-depth highlights of certain works of art. Visit the main gallery page, and then scroll down to choose which gallery you want to visit; they are organized by floor.
EXPLORE DEEPER WITH A 3-D MODEL
The British Museum goes a level beyond by offering a collection of 3-dimensional models of select works of art on view in the Museum. Zoom in and pan completely around 257 different works of art from all over the world. See the crisp curls of hair on a bust of Antonius, admire the intricate etchings on the back of one of the Lewis chessmen, and zoom into the fine details of the Egyptian, Demotic and Greek inscriptions on the front of the Rosetta stone. Click on a 3D model to open it, then click and drag to pan around the image. To move up or down within an image, hold Shift, then click and drag.
BONUS: THE 'MUSEUM OF THE WORLD' PROJECT
As a bonus for our visit to the British Museum, take advantage of the 'Museum of the World', an interactive experience through time that is made possible thanks to a partnership between the British Museum and the Google Cultural Institute. Discover objects from the Museum's collection from prehistory through the present using an advanced web graphics library, and see links between objects from different moments in time. Scroll up or down to move forward or backward through history, and click on a color-coded dot to bring up a work of art. Each dot indicates a different piece from the Museum's collection, and they are organized by region of the world; lines that connect dots show how one artwork is connected to another. Hit the "find out more" button to bring up information about the object, which includes an audio introduction from one of the British Museum's curators, and a map showing the object's provenience.
Next on our list is the world-renowned Uffizi Gallery, home to one of the largest collections of Renaissance art in the world. Situated in the heart of historic Florence, the U-shaped galleries of the Uffizi boast about 1.9 million visitors each year, who flock to see incredible works by Botticelli, Michelangelo, and Leonardo da Vinci. The buildings that make up the Gallery were originally designed by Giorgio Vasari in 1560 to house the "Uffizi", the administrative and legal offices of Florence. Due to its location on the edge of the Arno River, the Uffizi has been damaged by several floods over the years, and a particularly severe flood in 1966 caused serious damage to most of the art collections in the museum; they were saved by locals and tourists who were lovingly labelled "mud angels". With its famous sculptures and paintings and unique corridor design, the Uffizi is notoriously difficult to visit in person. In peak season, it's not unheard of for visitors to wait five hours just to get in the doors.
VISIT AN ONLINE EXHIBIT
Let's begin with a visit to one of the Uffizi's splendid online exhibits. You have twenty to choose from, and each exhibit ranges in narrative and artists works. The beauty of these online exhibits lies in the details of the artwork that we are given the opportunity to zoom in and really focus on. The range of topics between each exhibit allows us to make connections between the narratives and symbolism that flow through these paintings. Would we be able to recognize it on our own? Perhaps. But one thing's for sure: we would never be able to get close enough to see the details.
TAKE A VIRTUAL TOUR OF THE UFFIZI'S NEW HALLS
To take it a step further, the Uffizi has created a virtual tour in 360° that allows us to walk around the Hall of the Dynasties and the Galleries of Sixteenth-Century Venetian Painting. Take advantage of the fantastically crisp visual experience by clicking on any outlined circle on the ground to navigate around the rooms; click the smaller white circles to pull up information on a particular painting. I recommend making your tour full screen so you feel like you're standing right next to the masters. (To get your bearings at any time, look at the bottom left part of the tour screen; two different icons will allow you to view the floor plan of this exhibit, and jump to a spot of your choosing.
WALK AROUND THE CORRIDORS & GALLERIES WITH GOOGLE STREET VIEW
Head to the Google's Street View of the Uffizi Gallery to get the full walk around experience. Here you can move freely through the corridors and galleries, and see phenomenal sculptures and paintings with a completely unhindered view -- a nearly impossible feat during an in-person visit. Give yourself an overview of the Uffizi Gallery by checking out a floor plan of the museum. The Gallery is spread out on two floors, and contains one of the longest corridors in museum history; the Vasari Corridor is a kilometer in length, and is actually part of a separate museum that requires a guided tour.
For the quintessential Uffizi experience, start your visit in the First Corridor, and stride among the beautiful sculptures and painted ceilings. Look up and appreciate Alessandro Allori's detailed frescoes from 1580-81. It's a beautiful day here in Florence, and sun in streaming in the windows; have a look outside and see if you can recognize some iconic landmarks, including the Palazzo Vecchio and the Ponte Vecchio. Wander through the well-known corridors, and dip into the gallery rooms. Want to see Leonardo da Vinci's famous Annunciation; no problem. How about portraits of the Duke and Duchess of Urbino by Piero della Francesca?; you can see them too. There are over 30 different access points you can click into (locate them in the strip on the bottom of the Street View window); some are associated with the most famous works of art here at the Uffizi. Click an access point to beam to that location in the Gallery, and have a look around. Use the directional navigation arrows on the floor to move about the rooms.
LEARN MORE ABOUT SPECIFIC ARTWORK
If you want more information on a work of art as you're standing in front of it, check out the Uffizi's nicely organized index of artworks. This index catalogs paintings, sculpture, drawings and architecture from the Uffizi Gallery, as well as the nearby Pitti Palace and Boboli Gardens. Learn more about Botticelli's Birth of Venus and how she's connected to the Medici family, and have an up-close look at the mixture of modeling sketch and finished painted figures that make up Leonardo da Vinci's Adoration of the Magi San Donato.
BONUS: GET UP CLOSE WITH SCULPTURES IN 3D
With the Uffizi Digitization Project, you have the ability to see certain sculptures as 3-D models. Visit the artworks page, and click on the "Sculpture" filter to see the sculptures in the Uffizi Gallery. Sculptures that have a 3D model will showcase a link at the bottom of the description text. You can also access the Uffizi Digitization Project directly, and scroll through the many fantastic sculptures in their library. Once you click on a work of art, hit the play button to open the model, then enjoy the technology. Zoom in or out with your mouse to get close to the details of the sculpture, click and drag to rotate, and hold shift to move around. Get up close to the curly hair of a wild boar from Rome, and be impressed by the chiseled musculature of wrestlers from the first century B.C.; there are so many sculptures to appreciate here. Do you have a favorite? Mine might be the Sleeping Ariadne.
For our final stop of the day, we head north to the Netherlands. The Rijksmuseum is one of the prides of the Dutch, and was originally founded in The Hague in 1800. Later moved to Amsterdam, it was first located in the Royal Palace, and then moved to the Trippenhuis (a neoclassical mansion in the center of the city) before being relocated once again to its current home at Museum Square in the Amsterdam South borough of the city. The main building was designed by Dutch architect Pierre Cuypers in the Dutch neo-Renaissance style, and opened its doors in 1885. After an extensive ten-year renovation project that cost €375 million ($489M) and saw the refurbishment and reorganization of the galleries (only Rembrandt's Night Watch remains in the same spot), the Museum was reopened with pomp and circumstance in 2013.
GET ORIENTED WITH A MUSEUM OVERVIEW
The Rijksmuseum's website gives us a nice overview of the layout, with specifics on the famous halls and rooms pertaining to different centuries of art. Check out the design of the Atrium with its glass roof and polished Portuguese stone floors. Links on each page allow you to jump off to learn about the history of the building and galleries, and you can see an orientation map that pinpoints where you are in the Museum. You can even get some nice visuals of the exterior of this beautiful establishment, showcasing flowering tulip beds and neatly trimmed hedges.
WALK AROUND THE HALLS WITH GOOGLE STREET VIEW & AN AUDIO TOUR
The Rijksmuseum (like most of the museum on this list) has partnered with Google to allow visitors to walk around the Museum with Google Street View. There are five floors available for you to roam about, and they include everything from famous works by Rembrandt and Vermeer to a full size airplane from the 20th century. Get your bearings by starting out in the Atrium, and appreciate the spacious and luminous design of the room; look up to see the famous glass roof and cage-like lighting structures. The strip on the bottom of your window will allow you to pop into specific galleries and check out the most famous works of art that are housed here. You can jump over to see Vermeer's Milkmaid, or pop into the Gallery of Honour and see Rembrandt's Jewish Bride.
While you roam about the galleries, take full advantage of the Rijksmuseum's free app, which contains a plethora of great audio tours. It's available to download from the App Store or Google Play. Once you've got the app, simply open it to access catalog content for the Museum's art, or choose the "at the museum?" option to access a series of tours and highlights. Want to hear an audio clip about a specific work of art? Type in the catalog number associated with that work of art to bring up the audio guide. Thanks to the crisp quality of the Google Street View, you can easily see these numbers posted on the wall next to each artwork in the gallery (they're just below the artwork description). While standing in front of Vermeer's Milkmaid, I typed in the artwork number (#575) on the app, and listened to the audio clip about the focus on detail and symbolism within the painting. Learn about the inspiration for the setting in Aelbert Cuyp's River Landscape (#538), or listen to the story behind the painting of Jan Steen's Feast of St Nicholas (#562).
CHECK OUT 'MASTERPIECES UP CLOSE'
The Rijksmuseum has created a virtual experience of the Great Hall, which contains some of the largest and most famous works of art on exhibit in the Museum. The Masterpieces Up Close exhibit includes moving visual tours of particular works of art with audio guides that focus on specific details within each artwork. Walk to the end of the hall to see the glassed in restoration project on Rembrandt's famous Night Watch painting (more on that later). Click on any of the headphone icons to pull up audio clips with descriptions of the painting and a focus on specific stories in the work of art. Click on Rembrandt's Night Watch and explore a particularly cool arrangement of details about the painting; learn about who the figures represent, and spot the self-portrait that's been "smuggled" into the scene.
FOLLOW 'OPERATION NIGHT WATCH'
If you're interested in the details of the Rijksmuseum's current restoration project of Rembrandt's Night Watch, you won't want to miss the highlights about the project, which began in July 2019. You may have noticed (while walking around the Great Hall in the Masterpieces Up Close exhibit) that Rembrandt's famous painting is currently contained in an enormous glass chamber. That's because the Rijksmuseum will carry out the restoration of the 3.79m x 4.53m painting with the world watching, literally. To do this, they had to move the 337kg painting to a temporary position, build the glass chamber exhibit space, and then move the painting back into its position at the end of the Great Hall. It's an incredible feat, and you can watch videos of the entire thing on the highlights page. Use the timeline just under the 'Follow Operation Night Watch' headline to access video clips on the announcement of the project, time lapse videos of the Night Watch's move and relocation, construction of the glass chamber, and the first millimeter by millimeter scans of the painting using a macro X-ray fluorescence scanner.
LEARN MORE ABOUT THE ART IN THE RIJKS STUDIO
Visit the Rijks Studio, the Rijksmuseum's online database of artwork that contains over 527,000 works of art to get in-depth information on some of the Museum's most famous residents. Zoom into the brush strokes of paintings, explore the details on porcelain and metal masterpieces, and dive into incredible engravings. The Rijks Studio gives you detailed information about the artwork you select, right down to the colors used in its creation. You also have the option to listen to audio fragments from multimedia tours and download images to use in artwork of your own; you can even order poster or canvas prints of your favorite pieces.
BONUS: PLAY THE RIJKSMUSEUM PUB QUIZ
As a bonus to our visit, the Rijksmuseum has created a takeaway game that you can play with your friends or family. The Rijksmuseum Pub Quiz is free to download, and easy to play. Download the PDFs (there's no need to print anything out) and choose a quizmaster or gamekeeper. You'll be tested on trivia about Dutch art and history in three different game rounds: Royalty, Curiosities, and Food & Drink. Each round has an associated intro video, so click on the link in the PDF to get fun tips from the Museum staff and see what it's all about. Happy playing!