The Largest & Most Detailed Photograph of Rembrandt’s The Night Watch Is Now Online: Zoom In & See Every Brush Stroke

What makes great paint­ings great? Unless you can see them for yourself—and be awed, or not, by their phys­i­cal presence—the answers will gen­er­al­ly come sec­ond-hand, through the words of art his­to­ri­ans, crit­ics, cura­tors, gal­lerists, etc. We can study art in repro­duc­tion, but see­ing, for exam­ple, the paint­ings of Rem­brandt van Rijn in the flesh presents an entire­ly dif­fer­ent aes­thet­ic expe­ri­ence than see­ing them on the page or screen.

Late­ly, how­ev­er, the sit­u­a­tion is chang­ing, and the bound­aries blur­ring between a vir­tu­al and an in-per­son expe­ri­ence of art. It’s pos­si­ble with dig­i­tal tech­nol­o­gy to have expe­ri­ences no ordi­nary muse­um-goer has had, of course—like walk­ing into a VR Sal­vador Dalí paint­ing, or through a sim­u­lat­ed Ver­meer muse­um in aug­ment­ed real­i­ty.

But these tech­no­log­i­cal inter­ven­tions are nov­el­ties, in a way. Like famous paint­ings silkscreened on t‑shirts or glazed on cof­fee mugs, they warp and dis­tort the works they rep­re­sent.

That is not the case, how­ev­er, with the lat­est dig­i­tal repro­duc­tion of Rembrandt’s grand­est and most exclu­sive paint­ing, The Night Watch, a 44.8 gigapix­el image of the work that the muse­um has “released online in a zoomable inter­face,” notes Kot­tke. “The lev­el of detail avail­able here is incred­i­ble.” Even that descrip­tion seems like under­state­ment. The image comes to us from the same team respon­si­ble for the painting’s mul­ti-phase, live-streamed restora­tion.

The Rijksmuseum’s imag­ing team led by data­sci­en­tist Robert Erd­mann made this pho­to­graph of The Night Watch from a total of 528 expo­sures. The 24 rows of 22 pic­tures were stitched togeth­er dig­i­tal­ly with the aid of neur­al net­works. The final image is made up of 44.8 gigapix­els (44,804,687,500 pix­els), and the dis­tance between each pix­el is 20 microme­tres (0.02 mm). This enables the sci­en­tists to study the paint­ing in detail remote­ly. The image will also be used to accu­rate­ly track any future age­ing process­es tak­ing place in the paint­ing.

The huge­ly famous work is so enor­mous, near­ly 12 feet high and over 14 feet wide, that its fig­ures are almost life-size. Yet even when it was pos­si­ble to get close to the painting—before COVID-19 shut down the Rijksmu­se­um and before Rembrandt’s mas­ter­work went behind glass—no one except con­ser­va­tion­ists could ever get as close to it as we can now with just the click of a mouse or a slide of our fin­gers across a track­pad.

The expe­ri­ence of see­ing Rembrandt’s brush­strokes mag­ni­fied in crys­talline clar­i­ty doesn’t just add to our store of knowl­edge about The Night Watch, as the Rijksmu­se­um sug­gests above. This aston­ish­ing image also—and per­haps most impor­tant­ly for the major­i­ty of peo­ple who will view it online—enables us to real­ly com­mune with the mate­ri­al­i­ty of the paint­ing, and to be moved by it in a way that may have only been pos­si­ble in the past by mak­ing an exclu­sive, in-per­son vis­it to the Rijksmu­se­um with­out a tourist in sight. (For most of us, that is an unre­al­is­tic way to view great art.)

See the huge pho­to­graph­ic repro­duc­tion of The Night Watch here and zoom in on any detail until you can almost smell the var­nish. This image rep­re­sents the paint­ing in the cur­rent state of its restora­tion, an effort that the muse­um pre­vi­ous­ly opened to the pub­lic by live stream­ing it. Yet, the work has stopped for the past two months as con­ser­va­tion­ists have stayed home. Just yes­ter­day, the team’s onsite research began again, and will con­tin­ue at least into 2021. This huge pho­to of the paint­ing may be the clos­est almost any­one will ever get to the can­vas, and the only oppor­tu­ni­ty for some time to approx­i­mate­ly feel its mon­u­men­tal scale.

For any­one inter­est­ed, there’s also a 10 bil­lion pix­el scan of Vermeer’s mas­ter­piece Girl with a Pearl Ear­ring. Explore it here.

via Kot­tke

Relat­ed Con­tent:

What Makes The Night Watch Rembrandt’s Mas­ter­piece

The Restora­tion of Rembrandt’s The Night Watch Begins: Watch the Painstak­ing Process On-Site and Online

Walk Inside a Sur­re­al­ist Sal­vador Dalí Paint­ing with This 360º Vir­tu­al Real­i­ty Video

Expe­ri­ence the Van Gogh Muse­um in 4K Res­o­lu­tion: A Video Tour in Sev­en Parts

See the Com­plete Works of Ver­meer in Aug­ment­ed Real­i­ty: Google Makes Them Avail­able on Your Smart­phone

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

by | Permalink | Comments (1) |

Sup­port Open Cul­ture

We’re hop­ing to rely on our loy­al read­ers rather than errat­ic ads. To sup­port Open Cul­ture’s edu­ca­tion­al mis­sion, please con­sid­er mak­ing a dona­tion. We accept Pay­Pal, Ven­mo (@openculture), Patre­on and Cryp­to! Please find all options here. We thank you!

Comments (1)
You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.
  • Kuan Leong says:

    When­ev­er I look at such mas­ter­pieces, I think, wow, how many months it would take for me to do some­thing like this in Pho­to­shop. Pro­vid­ed I even know how to draw.

    And cen­turies ago, a guy did this by hand. Inch by inch.

Leave a Reply

Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.