You Can’t Get Closer to Picasso’s “Guernica” Than This 436-Gigabyte Image

The new “Rethinking Guernica” website also includes 2,000 documents and photos charting the painting’s 80-year history

Guernica screenshot
Screenshot of a new, interactive website devoted to Pablo Picasso's most famous work. Reina Sofia

“Guernica” is one of Pablo Picasso’s most celebrated works. It was originally created as a commentary on the Spanish Civil War, but 80 years after its creation, the masterpiece has created its own history. Now, that long past is unveiled in a new interactive website and exhibit called “Rethinking Guernica,” reports Patrick Galey at Agence France-Presse.

The team behind the new display is the Reina Sofia modern art museum in Madrid, where the mural is housed. The site details the piece's long, strange journey and includes a super-high resolution 436-gigabyte image of the nearly 26-foot-long artwork.

The "Guernica" story begins in 1937 when the Spanish Republican government commissioned the artist to create a large piece for exhibit for the Paris World’s Fair that year. Picasso struggled with the commission. In April 1937, with just two months left before the fair, he learned about the German air force bombing of the Spanish city of Guernica in support of right-wing nationalist General Francisco Franco. It was one of the first times that a civilian population was targeted by aerial bombing. Picasso began work on a mural about the attack, creating dozens of sketches and plans, eventually producing his 26-foot long, 11-foot wide, black-and-white masterpiece in less than a month and a half.

But the World’s Fair was not the painting's only stop. It appeared at museums and exhibitions around the globe, transcending its original subject matter to represent the plight of all civilians affected by war. As Claire Voon at Hyperallergic writes, “Rethinking Guernica” includes high-resolution scans of the original Guernica commission letter, as well as sketches for the piece. There are also 2,000 other documents collected from 120 museums, collectors, archives and libraries documenting the painting’s journeys across the globe and the political discourses surrounding the piece, including protest posters based on the image.

“Guernica is a source of never-ending artistic material and it’s a privilege to be with as an art historian,” Rosario Peiro, head of collections at the Reina Sofia, tells Galey. “Putting all of this together allows you to rethink the history of the painting,”

Perhaps the most mesmerizing piece of the online exhibit is a 436-gigbyte “Gigapixel” scan of the painting. Galey reports that conservators took thousands of photographs, infrared reflectography scans and high-definition X-rays to create an incredibly detailed image of the giant artwork. The resolution is so high, it’s possible to examine up close the many, many brush hairs stuck to the painting as well as the slight discoloration still present from the time in 1974 when art dealer Tony Shafrazi painted the words “Kill All Lies” in red across the painting while it hung in New York’s Museum of Modern Art.

Naomi Rea at artnet News writes that the site also includes a timeline which traces the history of the painting from its creation to the present day. An “Itineraries” section also allows visitors to follow the painting to its various exhibitions around the globe, including surviving a coup in Venezuela in 1948 and a major fire at MoMA in 1958. Rea reports that while 2,000 documents and photos are currently online, the museum hopes add another 4,000 "Guernica"-related files to the website in the near the future.

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