National Gallery Complete Illustrated Catalogue
The first thing we should make clear about the National Gallery Complete Illustrated Catalogue (Yale University Press) is that this is the National Gallery, London, not the one in Washington, DC. It is a well constructed and comprehensive catalogue of the National Gallery’s eminent collection, which comes on a single disc tucked into the back of a hefty printed catalogue of the same material (you can buy the book without the CD-ROM, but not vice-versa). The book and disc are identical in every respect, but the disc truly outshines the print version when it comes to the imagery. The back lighting provided by a monitor makes the huge, 24-bit images on the disc appear almost as luminous as they do in real life, unlike the rather small, dingy printed versions. But the imagery on the disc isn’t perfect. In order to fit all 2000 works on a single disc they’ve been stored as compressed JPEG files. This means that on nearly all the smaller versions (each image is available in three sizes: thumbnail, full-screen, and detail) there are compression artifacts, the technical term for the small glitches and false colors that appear when compressed files are expanded. For a CD-ROM that is about imagery from start to finish, this is a poorly conceived trade-off. It would have been better to have higher image quality throughout, even at the expense of having to expand to a two or three-disc set. Other than the imagery, there’s a searchable index, an authoritative (but brief) history of the National Gallery, and curatorial entries for each piece detailing attribution, materials, etc. This is a nice package, even if it errs on the side of functionality before beauty.
– May 1996