Rembrandt’s ‘The Night Watch’ Visible from the Back for Final Stage of Research

Rembrandt’s ‘The Night Watch’ Visible from the Back for Final Stage of Research

Dutch master Rembrandt painted Militia Company of District II under the Command of Captain Frans Banninck Cocq (better known as The Night Watch) in 1642 and could never have predicted the strange life this painting would lead. In 1715, two panels were cut from the sides of the painting so that it would fit nicely between two doors in Amsterdam’s City Hall. In 1975, it was attacked with a knife. And, in 1990, it was splashed with acid. Even more unimaginable, until recently, is the technology that has been used to study and conserve the painting in what is referred to as Operation Night Watch.

In 2019, the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam embarked on the multimillion dollar Operation Night Watch program, which sought to thoroughly study the painting to recreate the missing pieces that were slashed off in 1715 and to identify possible conservation efforts. Now in its final stage, Operation Night Watch is taking a look at the back of the painting.

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Currently displayed in a glass case in the Rijksmuseum, audience members can now peek at the back of the piece for the first time as researchers go about their business. A shearography analysis, in which light or sound waves will be used to measure key details about the piece, will be used to measure how well bonded the support canvas is to the original on which Rembrandt painted. If there are significant weaknesses detected, the museum will perform a conservation treatment to address any issues. Then, researchers will use a stereoscopic microscope to analyze the very bottom layers of the painting so that they can better understand how Rembrandt constructed his masterpiece.

Pieter Roelofs, head of paintings and sculpture at Rijksmuseum, noted that the view from behind has a strangely emotional impact. “Seeing it without a frame and so close, you can see how fragile the painting is, and how great our responsibility is to properly research this world-famous art work before we pass it on to future generations,” he wrote via email.

Viewers will have until November 23 to see the painting from this unique vantage point, after which time the painting will be hung again on a wall.

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