This Tool Makes it Easy to Compare Art From Different Museums

IIIF frees images from the confines of individual websites

IIIF and the Mirador Viewer at the Yale Center for British Art

It’s a heady time for anyone who loves art, as digital imagery makes it possible not just to explore more of a museum’s catalog, but to get closer to an image than ever before. But what if you want to look at more than one museum’s digital images or share them with others?

Until now, that’s involved lots of browser tabs and a sometimes frustrating trip through varying interfaces and image types. But it’s getting even easier to troll through multiple collections and compare what’s inside, reports Shaunacy Ferro for mental_floss, as museums adopt a new technology that frees images from the confines of individual websites.

It’s called the International Image Interoperability Framework, or IIIF, an API that makes digital images more accessible. The API was invented by cultural institutions with the goal of giving scholars an unprecedented amount of access to image repositories regardless of location, and it’s one of the more exciting tools in museum tech today. IIIF lets you zoom in on images, quickly build virtual collections, and share them more easily.

One of its cooler uses, though, is comparison. As Ferro reports, it’s easy to pull a huge collection of newly released IIIF images from both the Getty Museum and the Yale Center for British Art into the Mirador image viewer platform, an online, open-source image viewer that lets you compare images side-by-side. Both museums offer this functionality with a single mouse click.

Basically, IIIF turns images that once would have been trapped on a single museum’s website into portable pieces of art, ready to compare, share and even annotate. You could use it to, say, compare works by the same artist, explore similar themes, or contrast different artistic techniques.

In a press release, the Yale Center for British Art says that it’s now made almost 70,000 images available in IIIF. And the Getty has released over 30,000. “You might want to compare Turner’s depiction of stormy seas in the Getty’s 'Van Tromp Going about to Please His Masters, Ships a Sea, getting a Good Wetting' and with the Yale Center for British Art’s 'Stormy Sea Breaking on a Shore,'” suggests the Getty’s semantic architect Rob Sanderson on the museum’s blog. Sanderson adds that all new images in the Getty’s Open Content program will be added to the growing list, too, so stay tuned for even more eye candy.

The Getty and the Yale Center for British Art aren’t the only museums using the technology. There’s an entire consortium of cultural institutions that support IIIF, and an IIIF Museums Community Group that makes the list even longer. The international IIIF community is currently meeting at the Vatican to plot its next steps, so look for even more cool functionality in the future. Can’t get enough comparison? Click here to try demos of comparisons from other libraries, too.

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