717-gigapixel photo shows Rembrandt masterpiece in unprecedented detail
Amsterdam's Rijksmuseum has released what it claims is the highest-resolution photo of an artwork ever created. A total of 8,439 individual 100-megapixel exposures were stitched together to create this 717-billion-pixel image of a celebrated Rembrandt painting.
The Night Watch – more formally titled The Shooting Company of Frans Banning Cocq and Willem van Ruytenburch or Militia Company of District II under the Command of Captain Frans Banning Cocq – has fascinated art experts and the general public alike since one of the greatest painters in Dutch history unveiled it in 1642.
A grand work, measuring 363 cm × 437 cm (142.9 in × 172 in), it perfectly encapsulates Rembrandt's storied mastery of light and shadow as its two main subjects – including Amsterdam's first mayor – step forward into the sunlight, with a chaotic cast of characters behind them providing a seemingly endless sideshow.
The Rijksmuseum's "Operation Night Watch" research team had to stage an elaborate operation to create this monster digital twin. A Hasselblad H6D mounted on a special boom arm did the heavy lifting. Each shot had a depth of field of just 125 micrometres, or about 1/8th of a millimeter (0.005 in), so the team laser-scanned the surface of the painting, fine-tuned focus before every shot, and used a neural network to ensure optimal color and sharpness for each exposure.
With the distance between pixels just 5 micrometers (0.0002 in), and each pixel itself representing a space smaller than a human red blood cell, there's now an insane amount of detail for Operation Night Watch researchers and other art historians to explore – and a neural network that can help with tasks like comparing pigment particles and mapping the use of lead soaps across the painting.
As well as enabling all sorts of research, tracking deterioration over time and preserving the work before a restoration and re-stretching treatment begins later this month, it's a chance to get closer to Rembrandt's work than you could with your nose pressed to the canvas. You can enjoy the incredible texture of a hardened leather collar, the play of light along a gun barrel, the ruddy blotching on the red watchman's nose, or the hilariously crap-tastic dog in the lower right that ol' Rembrandt probably hoped nobody would notice.
You can also home in on some sadder details, like the slight scars left when the painting was repaired after being slashed with a knife in 1975. Click through to explore and enjoy.