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Illuminating the Renaissance

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Even as Harry Potter is setting new records in the world of publishing, the Getty Center at the Getty Art Museum in Los Angeles is hosting an exhibition dedicated to books with somewhat shorter publishing runs - specifically, one each. The 15th and 16th centuries saw the final flourish of extravagant, one-of-a-kind volumes that were as much a testament to their owners' power and wealth as to their literacy and taste - and some of the most potent status symbols were the illustrated manuscripts created in what is now Belgium and Northern France. Illuminating the Renaissance: The Triumph of Flemish Manuscript Painting in Europe gives we simple folk of today a glimpse of how the other half read.

Created to accompany an exhibition that runs until September 7, the online version of Illuminating the Renaissance is, to use the vernacular, a one-trick pony - but it's quite a trick. Granted, the home page's index does offer visitors access to a half-dozen sections (including an events calendar and online store), but the real reason for visiting the site is the Zoom and Explore area. Here, 20 featured illuminations are explored as they depict scenes that range from a royal wedding to a tour of heaven and hell - and from this sample of works, the museum also surveys such subjects as Renaissance fashions, art, politics and even popular fiction.

And the 'zoom' component of Zoom and Explore is well worth the price of admission. Using a Flash enhancement called Zoomify (no extra plug-ins or operating instructions required), each illumination is presented through an interface that allows the visitor to instantly move in or out, or pan to any spot on each manuscript - using a series of buttons at the bottom of the viewer window. The degree of magnification available is truly impressive, as is the image sharpness in all but the most extreme close-ups. Reaction to the user commands is also gratifyingly fast, and visitors can even ignore the Pan buttons in favor of clicking and dragging the image for more precise adjustments.

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