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LE LOUVRE: Palace and Paintings
CD-ROM Review

By Joseph E. Romero

PARIS - For the rapidly evolving interactive publishing industry, France has taken a significant lead in the development of culture titles. Le Louvre: Palace and Paintings (available in French, English, German, Italian, Spanish, Japanese and Korean) has already sold over 100,000 copies in France and more than 50,000 in foreign markets since its release in December 1994.

As a CD-ROM format, Le Louvre echos the American electronic book familiar from early Voyager Company titles, but surpasses anything developed by Microsoft and its spreadsheet approach to museum collections.

At first glance, one is immediately struck by the cerebral, French modernist, up-market look of the screens and the central pivot point of the CD-ROM's rich data base: an interactive time-line. This means that unlike most interactive books, there is no need to return to the "Chapters" (menu) screen to access major elements of the title. Essentially, this CD-ROM provides an interactive visit of the Louvre, both as museum and as palace. From the medieval Louvre of 1190 to the Pyramid of the American architect I.M. Pei, the contents are sub-divided into eight periods. The program includes 100 paintings from the principal European schools, 35 animations devoted to compositional analysis, over 2 1/2 hours of interactive commentary, some 100 biography files and numerous anecdotes related to the architecture and history of the palace and its painting collections. The title can also be accessed via the three major museum wings: Richelieu, Sully and Denon. Navigation is easy, hyperlinks are plentiful, and the magnifying glass mode for chosen paintings is a plus.

Analysis of paintings tends to be clinical, almost surgical - just the facts. Rarely is it based on a visual experience and clearly lacks a true presentation of the creative process. Although there are only 20 minutes of music and no interface to its credits during the program, the sound illustrations are apt and provide a contextual relationship with the artistic currents under discussion. "The music must accompany the content which is, above all, about the masterpieces in the Louvre and the history of the palace", says Stéphane Grand-Chauvin, a manager at Montparnasse Multimedia, co-producer of this title. Clearly, there was to be only one star on this CD-ROM: Le Louvre.

Original French texts were written by Dominique Brisson and Natalie Coural. Le Louvre: Palace and Paintings is the kind of product that one would expect from the Réunion des Musées Nationaux (French National Museums): aesthetically cool, academic, technically competitive, and culturally conservative. French craftsmanship and atmosphere, nonetheless, give a strong identity to the product and there are some elegant touches to this title. It would be interesting to see if this ambitious French publisher could liberate itself from the constraints of the electronic coffee-table book and its gilt-edged valeurs sures towards a more environmental conceptual design. Perhaps future interactive titles will yield progress along these lines.


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