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Night Watch: More than meets the eye


The Rijksmuseum's year-long study project focuses on Rembrandt's huge Night Watch canvas has yielded a variety of results, including more information on how he painted it, what it shows, and what can be done to help repair some of the damage it has suffered over the years.

One key finding from the 25 different types of scans that were performed is that Rembrandt drew a sketch of the composition on the canvas before setting to work with paint. The museum says it "allows us to look over the artists's shoulder.'

Taco Dibbits, museum director, told press that ‘The discovery of the sketch represents a breakthrough in this research. We always suspected Rembrandt must have made a sketch on the canvas before embarking on this incredibly complex composition, but we didn’t have the evidence. We are currently able to look beneath the surface of the paint better than ever before and now we have the proof, giving us a real understanding for the first time of how the painting was made…We have discovered the genesis of The Night Watch.’

The scans also revealed changes Rembrandt made by overpainting to move a leg, remove feathers and weapons that apparently didn't work well in the composition, as well as finding a dog long lost in dimness. The detailed scans down to pigment level will aid conservors in working on the painting.

One big repair item being done now: There are deformations in the upper left of the canvas that developed while the painting was in a different pavilion during ten years of building repairs. A system of gentle stretching is underway, and the entire canvas is being moved from its wooden stretcher to one that will be more resistant to atmospheric changes.

The best part of every trip is realizing that it has upset your expectations

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