The Rijksmuseum has released what it claims is the “largest and most detailed photograph of any artwork,” and it’s viewable for free on its website. The scan is of Rembrandt van Rijn’s 1642 masterpiece The Night Watch, a roughly 12 by 14 foot painting which is currently the focus of a massive research and restoration project called “Operation Night Watch.”
The technical details of the scan are staggering. In a press release, the Rijksmuseum explains that it’s made up of 8,439 individual photographs taken with a 100 megapixel Hasselblad H6D 400 MS camera. Neural networks were reportedly used to check each image for color and sharpness, and an AI system helped stitch these photos together into a single image.
The result is a 717 gigapixel image that’s 5.6 terabytes in size, where each of its pixels shows an area just 5 micrometers in size on the original painting. The museum notes that it’s four times sharper than the last scan that was put out by the museum, which was only 44.8 gigapixels big, and where each pixel represented a comparatively massive 20 micrometers.
The impact is a little mind-boggling, allowing you to zoom in to see the cracks that have appeared in the individual brush strokes of this masterpiece. Arguably it’s an even better experience than seeing the painting in the flesh, since this software allows you to really press your nose up against it in a way that would get you thrown out of most museums.
If you’re willing to sacrifice a bit of resolution, then the website also has an alternative version of The Night Watch with the missing cropped sides restored. These sections were stripped from the painting in 1715, allowing it to fit in a more cramped location in Amsterdam’s City Hall. These missing segments were restored last year based on a 17th-century copy of the original painting made by Gerrit Lundens. This work was also completed as part of the same Operation Night Watch project.
The Rijksmuseum’s press release notes that this scan will help with research of the painting, especially remotely. It should also allow researchers to track how the painting ages going forward with more accuracy. With the scan complete, the museum notes that it now plans to mount The Night Watch onto a new stretcher to correct deformities in the canvas that have appeared, and that it will consider other “conservation treatments.”