Rembrandt’s The Night Watch has been digitized with exceptional quality. You can zoom very, very far into the heart of the painting while maintaining perfect sharpness.
The Night Watch is one of Rembrandt’s greatest masterpieces. The painter made this painting in 1642. He represented a grouped portrait of the bourgeois militia of the musketeers of Amsterdam. The central figure is Frans Banning Cocq, a knight and town politician at the time. Today, the painting is in the Rijksmuseum (Netherlands).
Although he is named The round of Night, the painting represents a daytime scene. This title was chosen long after Rembrandt’s death, in the 19th century, because of a “technical” particularity: the painting was covered, during its creation, with a bitumen primer from Judea. If the pigment confers its dark brown tints to the work (as for the Raft of the Medusa by Théodore Géricault), it also causes an increasing darkening over time.
Its darkened aspect certainly does not spoil its beauty in any way, but it can prevent certain details from being perceived. The “Operation Night Watch” project came to compete in technological ingenuity to produce a scan of the painting of exceptional and unprecedented quality.
The Night Watch at 717 gigapixels
The photographic quality of the scan is presented by the Rijksmuseum as “ the largest and most detailed for a work of art “. Its sharpness is also exceptional. The image is 717 gigapixels, or 717,000,000,000 pixels: each pixel of the scanned image corresponds to 5 micrometers (0.0005 centimeters) of the work.
With such a resolution, you can zoom very, very far within the Night Watch, up to observing brush strokes and even pigment particles.
From a technical point of view, the image is composed from 8,439 photographs, using a Hasselblad H6D 400 MS camera (very high quality equipment). After each photograph was taken, an artificial neural network was used to check color and shading. An artificial intelligence has also made it possible to recompose these thousands of individual photographs into a single one. The total image file weighs 5.6 terabytes, or some 5,600 GB.
You can experience the image directly on the museum’s website. By simply clicking on the magnifying glass indicated “+”, you can zoom into the heart of the table. You will see that it is possible to go very far: it is really impressive.