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  • Rainey Knudson

Ultra-High Resolution Rembrandt (365 words)

The writer Benjamin Moser's recent essay about living in the Netherlands as a Houston expat renewed my desire to return to that country, decades after my only, brief visit. I want to see the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam again. I love the messy, luscious, ordinariness of golden age Dutch art: miraculous still lifes of table scraps, winter scenes, tavern scenes, ordinary people going about their lives. Laughter and bawdiness. Humans. All that dark and light together.


(Sidenote: "golden age" Dutch painting—Frans Hals, Vermeer, Rembrandt—is from the 17th century, the same period as the disastrous 30 Years' War, a chunk of which involved the Netherlands' 80-year struggle for independence from Spain. So—huh—these masterworks were being made in the midst of a slow-motion catastrophe of religious and political conflict. Proving once again that our job as humans is to live a good life, make great art, even in the midst of a shitshow.)


One of the jewels of the Rijksmuseum is Rembrandt's Night Watch (1642), a colossal military portrait dominated by two men in the center, with a woman carrying a chicken kind of stealing the show at center-left.



In 2020 the Rijksmuseum commissioned a breathtakingly detailed image of Night Watch:


This is the largest and most detailed photo ever taken of a work of art. It is 717 gigapixels, or 717,000,000,000 pixels, in size.
The distance between two pixels is 5 micrometres (0.005 millimetre), which means that one pixel is smaller than a human red blood cell.
The team used a 100-megapixel Hasselblad H6D 400 MS-camera to make 8439 individual photos measuring 5.5cm x 4.1cm. Artificial intelligence was used to stitch these smaller photographs together to form the final large image, with a total file size of 5.6 terabytes.

It's amazing to poke around the thing. You can zoom in to a sub-paintbrush level of detail that could not have been previously visible, even to the painter himself. Here is a closeup of the braided fabric edge of the central man in cream's metal collar, seen at maximum magnification:




Here is a closeup of the shine on the woman's pearl earring, with its minute dab of blue:




Here is the woman's right eye:




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