Some paintings are forgotten the moment their creator paints the last stroke. They’re put in the back of a closet, never to come out again. Except maybe for a one-way trip to the dumping ground. Others, however, enter the course of history and even change it a little bit. They’re works we learn about at school, paintings almost everyone could recognize within seconds. And the persons who painted them become celebrities in their very own way, with their names being etched in our general memory.
We’re talking here about works like Picasso’s Guernica, Van Gogh’s Starry Night, Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa… and Rembrandt’s The Night Watch. It’s that particular painting which we mention in this article’s title and it’s The Night Watch we’ll be discussing from now on. Because even though Rembrandt’s work is quite famous, you might not know a thing or two about the picture.
De volledige Nachtwacht is voor het eerst in 300 jaar te zien! Het team van #OperatieNachtwacht heeft met behulp van kunstmatige intelligentie een reconstructie weten te maken van de missende stukken.— Rijksmuseum (@rijksmuseum) June 23, 2021
Bekijk de behind the scenes-video hier: https://t.co/YMkTgDNkFM#AkzoNobel pic.twitter.com/eXoj7MaUyL
What’s in a name
First of all, The Night Watch is not its original title. When Rembrandt painted it in 1642, the painting was known as ‘Militia Company of District II under the Command of Captain Frans Banninck Cocq’ or ‘The Shooting Company of Frans Banning Cocq and Willem van Ruytenburch’. Quite the mouthful, so let’s keep things simple and refer to it as The Night Watch like everyone else. The work was commissioned in 1639 by Captain Banninck Cocq and seventeen members of his Kloveniers (a.k.a. civic militia guards). Originally, the painting was hung in the banquet hall (Groote Zaal) of the Kloveniersdoelen in Amsterdam, until it was moved to the Amsterdam Town Hall in 1715. The only problem? The canvas didn’t fit and they had to trim the painting. No one actually thought of preserving those pieces, so from that moment on, The Night Watch was scarred.
Reconstruction by AI
Luckily, there was a man called Gerrit Lundens. He made a copy of the painting during the seventeenth century when it was still whole. Thanks to him, researchers have now been able to reconstruct the missing parts of The Night Watch. In order to mimic Rembrandt’s painting style as well as possible, artificial intelligence was used – which worked wonders, according to Senior Scientist Robert Erdmann.
The result of that reconstruction is quite surprising, as it shows us a couple of details which actually change the painting as we know it. First of all, it turns out the two central men aren’t in the middle of the scene, yet more to the right. And on the left side, three extra figures appear. Taco Dibbits, director of the Rijksmuseum – where the painting is on show – says this demonstrates Rembrandt’s style was even more dynamic than experts thought before.
At the moment, visitors can admire the missing pieces in combination with the original work at Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum. This will only last a couple of months though, so if you want to book a visit, you better be quick about it.