As mentioned, we’re doing occasional reviews of museum online learning opportunities written for the Spring 2012 class “Museums and Online Learning.” This author has preferred to remain anonymous.

The Isabella Stewart Gardner Collection

The Isabella Stewart Gardner collection is an amazing array of paintings, furniture, and sculpture, left just the way the late Isabella Gardner intended.  However, she would probably find the online collection a bit of a disappointment.

The design of the museum’s web-site is well-organized, but not exactly informative. I liked that when you click on any art work, the icons of the collection by genre, geography, location and artist name always remain on the right side, allowing for easy navigation. The white background and simple font of the text are not visually stimulating, but at least they don’t tire out your eyes. One major complaint is that the web-site does not have a search bar on the homepage, forcing the viewer to first select a genre to browse through. While the web-site is user-friendly and comfortable to use, it is not particularly impressive or technologically interactive.

Just like the Gardner collection, the content of the web-site is very diverse. Once inside the collection page you can search the collection by genre and geography, which includes a variety of European paintings, European decorative art, American art, Islamic art, miscellanea and Asian art. The collection can be searched alphabetically by the artist’s name and by the name of the painting. The virtual collection’s floor-by-floor and gallery-by-gallery arrangement is exciting, because it translates the unique physical layout of the museum onto the internet.

While the actual collection is quite impressive, the information given online about it is less so. The web-site provides only a year and place of production, where the art work came from, technique and size of the painting, location in the museum, genre and the reference to the author’s other work. More text and detailed information about what is depicted on the art work or its history would be useful and interesting, to give the users a deeper understanding of the piece. Moreover, the image of the work cannot be enlarged more than 10-15 centimeters, making it difficult to see the details. But since more and more museums are adding high resolution photos of art works on their websites, the Gardner museum might think about having multiple choices of the size of art works. Since Mrs. Gardner was a very progressive woman, I think she would like innovations that could be made on the web-site.