A research team at Rijksmuseum, the national museum of the Netherlands, has created the most detailed image ever taken of a work of art, that being Rembrandt's baroque painting The Night Watch.
The photograph is a whopping 717 gigapixels in resolution, with pin-sharp clarity of the paint pigment particles. This eclipses the 44.8 gigapixel image of the same painting produced by the museum last year.
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The Night Watch was painted by Rembrandt van Rijn in 1642, using oil on canvas, and displays a military group portrait featuring the Militia Company of District II with Captain Frans Banninck Cocq. The artwork situates within the baroque collection of famous Dutch Golden Age paintings.
The complete composite image of The Night Watch is made up of 8,430 individual photographs (up from 528 from the previous image) that measure 5.5cm x 4.1cm. Artificial intelligence used to stitch the smaller photographs together, in order to form the final colossal image that has a total file size of 5.6 terabytes.
To ensure that each image was correctly focused, the surface of the painting was first scanned using lasers and the camera accurately calibrated. After each individual photograph was taken, a neural network would check the color and sharpness.
Not only is this new photograph four times sharper than its predecessor, with possibilities to zoom in even further on previously unseen minute details, neural networks can now be used to rapidly detect pigment particles that are similar and also identify lead soaps.
The photograph was made possible due to research administered by Operation Night Watch, a dedicated team and restoration project operating at the Rijksmuseum.
"January 2022 will see the start of the conservation phase of Operation Night Watch," said Taco Dibbits, General Director at the Rijksmuseum. "The front of the painting will not be visible for a short time, but thanks to this image the public will continue to be able to admire Rembrandt’s masterpiece in the minutest detail".
This new image is enabling scientists involved in Operation Night Watch to study Rembrandt's masterpiece remotely and in even greater detail. It should also enable researchers to track future aging processes with greater accuracy.
The next phase of Operation Night Watch conservation begins on 19 January, with a goal to conserve the painting for the future in optimal ways. The first procedure being to mount The Night Watch on a new stretcher as to improve ‘deformities’ in the canvas, such as ripples in the upper left corner.
The full 717 giga-pixel image is available for viewing now on the Rijksmuseum website.