Researchers Found a Sketch Beneath Rembrandt’s “The Night Watch”

The findings are part of a larger project

"Operation Night Watch"
Researchers at the back of the painting "The Night Watch" by Dutch master Rembrandt at the Rijksmuseum in Asmterdam on November 3, 2021.

Many great works of art are on prominent display in museums, where visitors can spend time with them and immerse themselves in the worlds and moods that they create. That’s a good thing! But sometimes the specific ways in which these works of art are displayed can lead to the quality of images or materials deteriorating. That’s not a good thing at all.

In the case of Rembrandt’s painting The Night Watch, the Rijksmuseum noticed that its lighting was having some unexpected (and undesirable) effects on the work itself. Out of the concerns that this inspired came a project known as Operation Night Watch. The museum’s website notes that “imaging techniques, high-resolution photography and highly advanced computer analysis” are among the processes being used to analyze the painting in virtually all ways it can be analyzed.

Among the discoveries made by the researchers working on the project? A preliminary sketch made by the artist before he began painting. A new article at Smithsonian Magazine has more details on the findings — which confirm a long-held belief by many art historians that Rembrandt used sketches in the process of creating this work.

The Guardian has even more details on the discovery as well as its implications. Rijksmuseum head of paintings Pieter Roelofs put these findings in the proper perspective. “Now that we can see beneath the surface better than ever before, we now have the proof, this gives us real insight into Rembrandt’s creative process for the first time,” Roelofs said. “It is fascinating to see how he’s searched for the right composition.”

When it comes to many great works of art, we can only speculate as to how the artist created the piece in question. Thanks to this cutting-edge technology, we have a much better sense of how The Night Watch came to be.

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