Explore the New 717-Gigapixel Scan of Rembrandt’s The Night Watch, the Most Detailed Photo Ever Taken of a Work of Art

Film­mak­er and seri­ous Rem­brandt enthu­si­ast Peter Green­away once called The Night Watch the most famous paint­ing in the West­ern world, behind the Mona Lisa, The Last Sup­per, and the ceil­ing of the Sis­tine Chapel. But if the resources devot­ed to its scruti­ny are any­thing to go by, the Dutch mas­ter­work has been gain­ing on those oth­er three in recent years. Can any work of Leonar­do or Michelan­ge­lo, for exam­ple, boast of hav­ing been dig­i­tized at a res­o­lu­tion of 717 gigapix­els, as the Rijksmu­se­um has just done with The Night Watch?

In fact, no oth­er work of art in exis­tence has ever been the sub­ject of such a large and detailed pho­to­graph. Each of its 717,000,000,000 pix­els, says the Rijksmu­se­um’s site, “is small­er than a human red blood cell.”

This neces­si­tat­ed the use of “a 00-megapix­el Has­sel­blad H6D 400 MS-cam­era to make 8439 indi­vid­ual pho­tos mea­sur­ing 5.5cm x 4.1cm. Arti­fi­cial intel­li­gence was used to stitch these small­er pho­tographs togeth­er to form the final large image, with a total file size of 5.6 ter­abytes.” You may remem­ber arti­fi­cial intel­li­gence also hav­ing played a role in the recon­struc­tion of the paint­ing’s miss­ing sec­tions, pre­vi­ous­ly fea­tured here on Open Cul­ture.

The result far sur­pass­es the dig­i­tal ver­sion of The Night Watch made avail­able by the Rijksmu­se­um in 2020, itself high-res­o­lu­tion enough to allow view­ers to zoom in to see the paint­ing’s every indi­vid­ual brush stroke. (It even out­does last year’s 10-bil­lion-pix­el scan of Girl with a Pearl Ear­ring, the best-known work by Rem­brandt’s fel­low Dutch mas­ter Johannes Ver­meer.) Now, writes Colos­sal’s Grace Ebert, you can see all the way down to “the cracked tex­ture of the paint, brush­strokes, and slight pig­ment vari­a­tions that wouldn’t be vis­i­ble even if you were stand­ing in front of the work itself.”

380 years after Rem­brandt paint­ed it, The Night Watch remains almost unique­ly strik­ing in its employ­ment of con­trast­ing shad­ow and light, all in ser­vice of a large-scale com­po­si­tion at once life­like and some­how more vivid than real­i­ty. This dig­i­ti­za­tion and the AI-assist­ed com­ple­tion are both arts of “Oper­a­tion Night Watch,” the thor­ough­go­ing restora­tion project now under­way at the Rijksmu­se­um, which will make all the ele­ments of that com­po­si­tion more imme­di­ate­ly vis­i­ble than they’ve been in gen­er­a­tions.

But the ques­tion of how, exact­ly, Rem­brandt achieved such pow­er­ful effects can be answered only through rig­or­ous exam­i­na­tion of each and every detail, an activ­i­ty open to all on the 717-gigapix­el scan at the Rijksmu­se­um’s site.

via Colos­sal

Relat­ed Con­tent:

What Makes The Night Watch Rembrandt’s Mas­ter­piece

Enter an Online Inter­ac­tive Doc­u­men­tary on Rembrandt’s The Night Watch and Learn About the Painting’s Many Hid­den Secrets

The Long-Lost Pieces of Rembrandt’s Night Watch Get Recon­struct­ed with Arti­fi­cial Intel­li­gence

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

Late Rem­brandts Come to Life: Watch Ani­ma­tions of Paint­ings Now on Dis­play at the Rijksmu­se­um

A 10 Bil­lion Pix­el Scan of Vermeer’s Mas­ter­piece Girl with a Pearl Ear­ring: Explore It Online

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities 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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