AI Restores Lost Parts of Rembrandt’s Night WatchThe iconic painting’s edges were cut off to fit a certain space in a town hall in 1715 and the cut parts were never recovered
The Dutch painter Rembrandt van Rijn (1606–1669) is practically synonymous with the Old Masters school of painting in the Western world. But one of his paintings did not fare well over the years. As Isis Davis-Marks at the Smithsonian Magazine tells it,
In 1642, Rembrandt van Rijn completed a dynamic painting called The Night Watch, which depicts the captain of an Amsterdam city militia urging his men into battle. But in 1715 someone cut all four sides of the canvas to hang it on a wall in Amsterdam’s Town Hall, and the strips seemingly vanished into thin air.Isis Davis-Marks, “Lost Edges of Rembrandt’s ‘Night Watch’ Are Restored Using Artificial Intelligence” at Smithsonian Magazine (June 25, 2021)
Here’s what’s left:
But AI, able to compute a vast number of possibilities in a short period of time, can help restore the lost portions. So a restoration project was begun in 2019:
The museum always knew the original, uncut, painting was bigger, in part thanks to a far smaller copy painted at the same time that is attributed to Gerrit Lundens.
Researchers and restorers who have painstakingly pored over the work for nearly two years using a battery of high tech scanners, X-rays and digital photography combined the vast amount of data they generated with the Lundens copy to recreate and print the missing strips.
“We made an incredibly detailed photo of the Night Watch and through artificial intelligence or what they call a neural network, we taught the computer what color Rembrandt used in the Night Watch, which colors, what his brush strokes looked like,” Dibbits said.
The machine learning also enabled the museum to remove distortions in perspective that are present in the Lundens copy because the artist was sitting at one corner while he painted Rembrandt’s painting.Mike Corder, “Rembrandt’s huge ‘Night Watch’ gets bigger thanks to AI” at Associated Press (June 24, 2021)
The AI didn’t fill in any imaginative details. It simply computed the way the copy by Lundens would likely have been originally rendered by Rembrandt, based on calculations based on the large, existing painting. Although the restoration will likely spark debates among art critics, it is a plus for the art enthusiast.
Note: The featured photo is by antonio molinari on Unsplash
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