August 22, 2019
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Watch Rembrandt masterpiece get a face lift in person

By Imane Rachidi

Amsterdam, Jul 19 (efe-epa).- The restoration of "The Night Watch" by Dutch master Rembrandt has become a tourist attraction in and of itself as 25 experts at Amsterdam's Rijksmuseum bring the work back to its original brilliance behind a glass plane like a team of surgeons.

Hundreds of tourists from across the world line up for a chance to peer into the restoration chamber and catch a glimpse of the biggest restoration process this Dutch Golden Age painting has undergone since the oil was first applied to the canvas in 1642.

Most visitors appreciate the Rijksmuseum's decision to do the restoration inside the gallery itself instead of in a specialized laboratory as it means fans of Rembrandt (1606-69) still have the opportunity to visit one of his most celebrated masterpieces. Others, however, regret the considerable and sometimes noisy crowds it has attracted.

The vast chamber, to which Efe had access, is partitioned off by tall panes of highly transparent glass and is the creation of French architect Jean-Michel Wilmotte.

Currently, the operation to restore "The Night Watch" is in its research phase, which began last week and is expected to take up until about May next year, when the treatment phase will get underway, Petria Noble, the museum's head of conservation told Efe.

"But what exactly the nature of the treatment is we can’t exactly say," she continued.

"For instance, we can see that there are some defamations along the left side of the painting, at this point, we don’t know whether that means that we can just improve the tensioning by just manipulating the canvas or whether we might need to modify or even replace the stretcher."

The project has brought together expert curators, art conservationists and scientists. They use state-of-the-art imaging technology to build a layer-by-layer portrait of the painting's history.

The artwork, which weighs some 337 kilograms (743 pounds) and measures 363 cm × 437 cm (142.9 in × 172.0 in), has been scanned around the clock since the initial research phase got underway on July 8.

Moreover, the process can be followed from the comfort of your home as it is live-streamed on the museum's website.

The Operation Night Watch team will conduct 56 imaging analyses of the canvas using a selection of different technologies, the first of which involves Macro X-Ray fluorescent scanning.

Unlike the regular X-Ray technology used in hospitals, Macro XRF provides a non-invasive manner to track heavy and light elements in the painting, isolating the smallest brushstroke, adjustment or correction the artist made in the creation of the artwork.

Conservationists treated "The Night Watch" to X-Rays around four decades ago, giving the team a head start on some of the research.

"But there are certain aspects on the painting, certain visual phenomena, that we don’t fully understand," Noble said.

"A lot has been said about areas that are blanched or that have turned whitish, we need to do analysis to understand exactly what the nature of those whitish areas are."

They must also determine whether some of the abnormalities in the painting have happened naturally over time or arose as a result of previous restoration efforts.

Five of the professionals working on the project have been called in to take high-definition photographs of the painting's surface. The cameras being used can produce an image with just five micrometers between each pixel, comparable to the size of a red blood cell.

"What’s new about the research that’s taking place here, the research techniques that are going to be applied to the Night Watch are relatively new, I think they’ve been developed over the course say of the last 10 years," Noble said, specifying that Macro XRF and reflectance imaging spectroscopy, in combination, would throw up a lot of new information about the painting.

The last significant research investigation on "The Night Watch" took place in 1975, when conservationists also oversaw a small restoration of the painting when the technologies being put through their paces today were not available.

X-Rays and infrared images from that era have been laboriously studied, however.

A special easel has been developed for Operation Night Watch, which can move in all directions in coordination with a modern working platform. o

Experts hope to be drawing up a list of recommendations for the restoration process by the end of the year, but Noble said it might be necessary to remove the layer of varnish applied in its previous facelift.

"Even though the viewer may still have a really good perception of the painting from a distance, from a meter or two meter’s distance, actually when you are close-up to the painting you can actually see that the varnish is very degraded," she said. EFE-EPA

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