Amsterdam museum starts ‘live’ restoration of Rembrandt masterpiece

On Monday (8 July), experts at the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam began work on “the biggest and most wide-ranging” project to restore a priceless Rembrandt painting. The process will be available to watch in real time via livestream and in person.

Taco Dibbits, General Director of the Rijksmuseum, explained at the launch “we felt that the public has the right to see what happens to that painting.”

Specialists will work inside a custom-made glass chamber that has been placed around the artwork, allowing visitors to watch the restoration as it happens in the galleries.

The Night Watch was painted in 1642 and is arguably Rembrandt’s most revered painting for his masterly use of dramatic light. Rembrandt famously depicts a bustling portrait of Amsterdam’s civic guard on an enormous scale of 12.5 by 15-foot.

“Over the past decade, we have seen that there’s a slight deformation in the canvas, it’s bulging a bit at the top, and there’s a whitish haze over the lower parts of the painting,” related Dibbits.

Since its arrival at the Rijksmuseum in 1808, the baroque masterpiece has also been attacked three times. The first attempt occurred in the early 1900’s, when “an unemployed navy cook attempted to slash it with a knife—for no apparent reason.” Then, a Dutch teacher cut several zig-zags into the canvas in 1975 as revenge for the museum refusing his entry after arriving a few minutes late.

Most recently in 1990, a German man with a mental illness and a track record for attacking artworks hurled acid over the canvas. Fortunately, museum staff managed to stop the corrosion from permeating the varnish layer.

Dubbed “Operation Night Watch”, the long-awaited restoration project commences with a 10-month analysis and documentation of the painting’s underlayers using advanced technology.

“This detailed study is necessary to determine the best treatment plan, and will involve imaging techniques, high-resolution photography and highly advanced computer analysis,” said Dibbits.

The conservation team will also capture more than 12,500 high-resolution photos and 56 scans, each taking 24 hours to create.

At the launch on Monday, Dibbits praised the museum for allowing the public to view the painstaking restoration of the treasured painting because “more than two and a half million people come and see it each year. It belongs to everybody who lives in the Netherlands, and the world.”

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