A Rembrandt masterpiece housed at Amsterdam's Rijksmuseum has been restored to its original glory using Artificial Intelligence (AI).
"Rembrandt would have definitely done it more beautifully, but this comes very close," museum director Taco Dibbits told The Associated Press of the renowned artist's "Night Watch" on Wednesday. The painting has now has strips of canvas that were added to the left edge, restoring its off-center focal point as Rembrandt originally intended.
The painting's leftmost strip was cut off about 70 years after Rembrandt finished the piece in 1642. The decision to cut the painting moved its subjects – Captain Frans Banninck Cocq and Lieutenant Willem van Ruytenburch – to the center of the frame. However, Rembrandt, ever a unique artist, intended the painting's focal point to be just off-center.
The original painting was chopped down for a very practical reason: when it moved locations, it simply didn't fit on the wall. No one knows what became of the snipped part of the painting.
"It really gives the painting a different dynamic," Dibbits told the AP. "And what it taught us is that Rembrandt never does what you expect."
Art historians knew the uncut painting's original proportions thanks to a copy made around the same time, attributed to Gerrit Lundens, a Dutch painter who dutifully copied the works of the Old Masters.
The restoration process (codenamed "Operation Night Watch") began nearly two years ago, before the pandemic shut down museums. Researchers used advanced technology like high tech scanners, x-rays and digital photography to get down to the most precise details of the Lundens copy. Then, an AI program learned the mechanics of Rembrandt's technique, from the colors he preferred to his style of brushstroke.
The machine adjusted for distortions in Lundens' perspective (he would have recreated Rembrandt's painting from the corner of the room) and began its digital recreation.
Cailey Rizzo is a contributing writer for Travel + Leisure, currently based in Brooklyn. You can find her on Twitter, Instagram, or at caileyrizzo.com.
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