Night Watch restoration delayed but Rijksmuseum releases 45 gigapixel photo

A close up of a scene in Rembrandt's The Night Watch, part of a 44.8 gigapixel image of the painting
A close up of a scene in Rembrandt's The Night Watch, part of a 44.8 gigapixel image of the paintingRijksmuseumRijksmuseum

The start of the second phase in the restoration of Rembrandt's masterpiece 'The Night Watch' will be delayed from late summer 2020 to early-2021 due to the Covid-19 outbreak, the Rijksmuseum confirmed on Tuesday. At the same time, the museum announced the release of the most detailed photograph ever taken of the painting.

"The second phase of Operation Night Watch, the restoration of the painting, has been rescheduled due to the pandemic. The initial plan was to start after summer 2020, but this is no longer feasible. It will now take place in early 2021," the Rijksmuseum said in a statement.

The delay was caused because the staff carrying out the work in a closely-confined space still have to adhere to social distancing rules in place to curb the spread of the coronavirus. "The protocol for working in the glass chamber has been revised to conform with the guidelines set by the government and [RIVM]. "Consequently, to ensure it is possible to maintain a minimum physical distance of 1.5 meters, no more than two people will work on the painting at any given time," the museum said.

Early restoration work on The Night Watch is scheduled to resume again on Wednesday, the museum added. Extensive research has been carried out into how the original canvas might be restored, with much of the research having been done from home by the restorers.

Massive 45 gigapexel photo

The restoration was designed to be carried out in full view of the public, but now the museum will have to closely restrict entrance to the museum to comply with distancing rules. Researchers and fans of the painting will still be able to examine it up close, albeit virtually, to a minute detail not possible before Tuesday.

The Rijksmuseum published a 44.8 gigapixel image of The Night Watch, made from 528 different still photographs. "The 24 rows of 22 pictures were stitched together digitally with the aid of neural networks," the museum said. It was primarily created for scientists to view the painting remotely, and to track how aging affects the painting.

"The Operation Night Watch research team use the very latest technologies and continually push the boundaries of what was thought possible. The photograph is a crucial source of information for the researchers, and online visitors can use it to admire Rembrandt’s masterpiece in minute detail," said Taco Dibbits, the museum's director.

Zooming in on the photograph allows a user to view the most minute details of the painting, down to the individual flecks of paint.

Undated photo of restoration work of Rembrandt's The Night Watch underway at the Rijksmuseum
Undated photo of restoration work of Rembrandt's The Night Watch underway at the RijksmuseumRijksmuseum (supplied)

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