Tech by VICE

This 44.8 Gigapixel Scan of a Rembrandt Contains Staggering Detail

The Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam is closed to the public, but you can now view Rembrandt's 'The Night Watch' in unprecedented detail thanks to a hyper-resolution scan.

by Matthew Gault
May 14 2020, 4:23pm

Images: The Night Watch/ The Rijksmuseum

A museum in Amsterdam has uploaded a scan of Rembrandt’s The Night Watch painting that’s so detailed you can see individual brushstrokes and cracks in the paint. Thanks to the hyper-resolution scan, anyone can pull up the painting online and zoom in on individual features.

Painted in 1642, The Night Watch is a massive 11 feet tall and 14 feet wide. The hyper-resolution scan is part of an ongoing restoration project of The Night Watch assisted by machine learning software.

“The Rijksmuseum’s imaging team led by data scientist Robert Erdmann made this photograph of The Night Watch from a total of 528 exposures,” the Rijksmuseum said in a blog post. “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, and the distance between each pixel is 20 micrometres. 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 Rijksmuseum detailed the process in an Instagram story. Scanning the painting was a lengthy and laborious process using a technique called macro-XRF scanning. According to Annelies Van Loon, one of the research scientists working on the restoration project, each individual scan observed only a 58cm by 78cm portion of the painting. Scanning a single row of the painting took 21 and a half hours. “It takes two months to scan the entire surface with the macro-XRF,” Van Loon said on Instagram.

The macro-XRF machine uses a variety of imaging techniques during the scan, including x-rays to penetrate the individual layers of paint.

“The signal gets reflected back and gives us a readout. It tells us the chemical makeup of the paint,” Van Loon said. “That’s what’s so remarkable about this technique. It lets us identify each element individually—the materials that were used, the condition of the painting, and the painting technique.”

The Rijksmuseum is closed to the public now and for the foreseeable future because of Covid-19. But thanks to Operation Night Watch, anyone can view Rembrandt’s masterpiece in all its glorious detail from the comfort of their home.

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