Among a growing number of museums providing free online access to images of art in the public domain, the Metropolitan Museum in New York just made 394,000 images available and the site promptly crashed within hours from the heavy demand.

Under the Met’s new Open Access for Scholarly Content program, it put high-resolution images of 394,233 pieces of public domain art in its collection online late Monday, including paintings, etchings, sculptures and ancient artifacts -- Rembrandts, Picassos, Van Goghs, ancient European tapestries, Egyptian artefacts and the biblical works of Albrecht Dürer, among them.

Through the Open Access program, the spectacular collection of art is available for general viewing and downloading for non-commercial or scholarly use. Other museums like the Getty in Los Angeles have already implemented similar programs, which Met director and CEO Thomas P. Campbell says is part of the future of museums.

"Through this new, open-access policy, we join a growing number of museums that provide free access to images of art in the public domain," Campbell said in a statement. "I am delighted that digital technology can open the doors to this trove of images from our encyclopedic collection."

A small percentage of the collection’s online archive is unavailable for download under the OASC guidelines, either because the work is still copyrighted or is owned by an entity other than the Met. The majority of the museum's content can be downloaded and reproduced freely, however.

Perhaps the most exciting feature of the Met’s Collection Online is the ability to browse through pieces not on display at the museum. The Met hosts an extensive collection of art in storage, which it is unable to display publicly due to space limitations. There are no such issues online, however, and digital patrons are free to view art like Pablo Picasso’s 1906 self-portrait that would be otherwise off-limits.