Perhaps Rembrandt van Rijn's most famous painting, The Night Watch (1642), can now be seen in greater detail than ever before. You no longer have to worry about obeying the cautionary signs that line museum walkways and making sure to stand a respectable distance away from this massive piece from the Dutch Golden Age of Art; the Rijksmuseum has uploaded a fully zoomable 44.8-gigapixel (44,804,687,500 pixels) digital image of the painting in its full glory. The whopping 11'11” x 14'4″ canvas was photographed 528 times by curators, and then 24 rows of 22 of these pictures were stitched together to create this masterpiece of digital history.
The Rijksmuseum joins a host of other cultural institutions in bridging the gap between the physical and the digital museum experience. The Tate Modern’s virtual tour of the Andy Warhol exhibit premiered last month, taking visitors on a personal tour around the different rooms of the collection. The British Museum also just made nearly two million images of items in their online collection free for public use. We’re beginning to see hints at what the shifting paradigm in the public history field is going to look like in the years to come. Technology is giving these museums unique access and opportunity to create meaningful interactions with patrons beyond their brick-and-mortar buildings.
With the Rijksmuseum’s copy of The Night Watch, you get to see the painting in a way that only a few skilled conservators get to experience. The artwork, which was commissioned by Captain Frans Banning Cocq and seventeen members of his Kloveniers—a specific unit of civic militia guards—around 1639, is renowned for its use of movement and tenebrism. Even Rembrandt’s individual brushstrokes can be seen when you zoom into the photograph's highest focus. Interestingly, this image only accounts for one section of the canvas; other areas along the border were lost when the piece moved locations in 1715.
Earlier this year, the museum launched a series of restoration efforts in a popular live-stream event, but work on the project has slowed due to quarantine. They estimate that “Operation Night Watch” will be complete by 2021. You can see the detailed photograph here and visit the Rijksmuseum’s website for more information about the painting and its restoration plan.
Here's a series of close-ups of the golden-hued female mascot at the forefront of Rembrandt's The Night Watch.
The more you zoom in on the Rijksmuseum's photograph, the more clearly you can see Rembrandt's individual brushstrokes.
All images via The Rijksmuseum