Rembrandt’s Masterpiece, The Night Watch, Will Get Restored and You Can Watch It Happen Live, Online

Many of the world’s most admired paint­ings don’t look the same now as when the artists com­plet­ed them. Time, espe­cial­ly when it adds up to cen­turies and cen­turies, takes its toll on paints and the can­vas­es to which they’re applied, or at least it changes them in ways human­i­ty has­n’t pre­dict­ed or ful­ly under­stood. Take Rem­brandt’s 1642 Mili­tia Com­pa­ny of Dis­trict II under the Com­mand of Cap­tain Frans Ban­ninck Cocq, much bet­ter known as The Night Watch — but only because a lay­er of var­nish on top of the paint dark­ened over time, giv­ing the scene an unin­tend­ed noc­tur­nal qual­i­ty. The var­nish came off in the 1940s, but much more work remains to return Rem­brandt’s mas­ter­piece to the state in which Rem­brandt him­self beheld it.

Start­ing next sum­mer, the Rijksmu­se­um will launch a mul­ti-year, mul­ti­mil­lion-dol­lar project to give The Night Watch its long-await­ed thor­ough­go­ing restora­tion. (The three restora­tions the paint­ing received in the 20th cen­tu­ry repaired dam­ages inflict­ed by the occa­sion­al vis­i­tor bent, for rea­sons known only to them­selves, on destroy­ing it.)

The insti­tu­tion “plans to first study the paint­ing for about eight months, using new scan­ning tech­nolo­gies that were not avail­able dur­ing pre­vi­ous restora­tions, such as macro X‑ray flu­o­res­cence scan­ning, which can explore dif­fer­ent lay­ers of the paint sur­face to deter­mine what needs to be done.” Through­out the whole process, “a trans­par­ent show­case will be built around the paint­ing, the sci­en­tists and the restor­ers, so that vis­i­tors can view the progress.”

Art con­ser­va­tors have tra­di­tion­al­ly done their metic­u­lous work away from pub­lic eyes, but in the 21st cen­tu­ry pub­lic restora­tion has become, as we now say, a thing. Ear­li­er this month, Art­net’s Janelle Zara wrote about var­i­ous oth­er muse­um projects that have put “a pub­lic face on this nor­mal­ly closed-door pro­fes­sion,” even involv­ing social media plat­forms like Insta­gram in the process. The Rijksmu­se­um, as its direc­tor Taco Dib­bits announces in the video above, will take it a step fur­ther by stream­ing all the restora­tion work online, pro­vid­ing view­ers around the world a clos­er look at the paint­ing than they’ve ever had before, no mat­ter how many times they’ve vis­it­ed the Rijksmu­se­um’s Night Watch Hall in per­son. The first stages of the process will deter­mine how, exact­ly, The Night Watch has changed over the past 376 years. Dur­ing it we’ll no doubt find that Rem­brandt, whose finest work seems to grow rich­er with each exam­i­na­tion, still has a few sur­pris­es in store for us.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

300+ Etch­ings by Rem­brandt Now Free Online, Thanks to the Mor­gan Library & Muse­um

Rijksmu­se­um Dig­i­tizes & Makes Free Online 361,000 Works of Art, Mas­ter­pieces by Rem­brandt Includ­ed!

What Makes The Night Watch Rembrandt’s Mas­ter­piece

Flash­mob Recre­ates Rembrandt’s “The Night Watch” in a Dutch Shop­ping Mall

The Art of Restor­ing a 400-Year-Old Paint­ing: A Five-Minute Primer

How an Art Con­ser­va­tor Com­plete­ly Restores a Dam­aged Paint­ing: A Short, Med­i­ta­tive Doc­u­men­tary

Rijksmu­se­um Dig­i­tizes & Makes Free Online 361,000 Works of Art, Mas­ter­pieces by Rem­brandt Includ­ed!

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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