Hidden painting found under Rembrandt portrait in Los Angeles

Painting hidden under Rembrandt's An Old Man in Military Costume (Picture: TU Delft). (Painting hidden under Rembrandt's An Old Man in Military Costume (Picture: TU Delft))

Using two complementary imaging techniques and new mobile scanners, researchers from Los Angeles, Antwerp and Delft has been able to reveal a painting hidden underneath Rembrandt's famous painting An Old Man in Military Costume, which is currently in The Getty Museum in Los Angeles. The hidden underlying painting shows a young man wrapped in a cloak. The results of this collaboration was published in the Applied Physics journal on Tuesday. Rembrandt was known to re-use supports, such as wood panels, canvases and copper plates, particularly during the early years of his career. Since the 1960's historians have known that there is another painting under the Old Man in Military Costume painting, but up until now a clear image of what it may be could not be achieved. "Our ability to image the underlying painting has greatly benefited from recent technological advances", Karen Trentelman, senior scientist with the Getty Conservation Institute, says on TU Delft's website. "Researchers are always limited by the tools available to them, and over the years the study of this painting - and the underlying image - has progressively advanced with the introduction of each new tool. With this latest study, our scans reveal the distribution of specific chemical elements, from which we can infer the pigments used in the first composition, providing us with the most detailed image of the underlying painting to date." The researchers used two complementary, element specific imaging techniques to study the picture - neutron activation autoradiography (NAAR) and macro-X-ray fluorescence (MA-XRF) scanning - an Zray technique designed to analyze and visualize hidden paint layers. The new mobile scanners also contributed largely to the research, as it meant that the masterpiece could be scanned in the museum. The general shape of the face was revealed by X-radiography. NAAR imaging provided more details about the shape of the face and the cloak. And MA-XRF scanning added to the understanding of the hidden painting by analyzing the distribution of individual chemical elements. For example, the face contains the element mercury, indicating the presence of the red pigment vermilion, one of the components used to create flesh tones. The MA-XRF map of the mercury resulted in a nearly complete, detailed image of the face of the underlying figure. The reconstruction of the hidden image revealed a young man, seen in three-quarter view, wearing a voluminous cloak around his shoulders.