Rijksmuseum kicks off major open-to-public restoration of Rembrandt's Night Watch

Researchers examining the Night Watch by Rembrandt van Rijn in preparation for a major restoration, July 2019
Researchers examining the Night Watch by Rembrandt van Rijn in preparation for a major restoration, July 2019 . (Photo: Rijksmuseum)

On Monday the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam is starting the restoration of Rembrandt van Rijn's 1642 masterpiece the Night Watch. The painting will be restored behind a glass wall in the museum itself, which means that the public can follow along with the restoration.

The Night Watch is still in an excellent condition, but this restoration is desperately needed to keep it that way, according to the museum. The Rijksmuseum calls this the largest and most versatile research and restoration project in the history of the Night Watch.

The project kicks off with a massive investigation. The painting will be carefully mapped, layer by layer, by a team of 25 researchers. Using techniques ranging from digital imaging techniques to scientific and material-technical research, they will take 12,500 photos of the Night Watch and create an extremely detailed assessment of the painting's condition. This research will form the basis for a treatment plan for the restoration. 

All kinds of processes are taking place on the painting, and that needs to be properly investigated, Petria Noble, head of the Rijksmuseum's restoration department, previously said to NRC. "We keep an eye on that during routine checks, but there comes a time when you have to look into it better." For example, the paint on the dog has faded. And a chemical process is creating tiny white balls on the painting.

How long the restoration will take, is not yet clear. The last time the Night Watch was properly examined and restored was in 1975, after a man attacked the canvas with a knife. That restoration took over eight months, according to RTL Nieuws. 

The restoration can also be followed online.  The live stream kicks off at 5:00 p.m. on Monday. 

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