Rare guest. Something unusual and extremely rare found in Rembrandt's masterpiece “The Night Watch”
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The researchers note that nothing like this has ever been seen before in historical works of art.
The painting “The Night Watch” was painted in oil in 1642 by the Dutch golden age artist Rembrandt van Rijn. The painting bears the full title “The militia company of district II under the command of Captain Frans Bannink Kok” and is the largest composition ever written by Rembrandt – its size is 3.6 by 4.4 m, writes Express.
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Today the painting is on display at the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam. In addition, she is notable for her dramatic use of light and shadow, which creates a sense of movement. This effect is also called “tenebrism”. However, Rembrandt's masterpiece is not only remarkable for this – in the course of analyzing the painting, the researchers discovered a rare chemical compound that had not previously been found in any other work of art.
In a new study, a team of scientists from the University of Antwerp in Belgium combined various multi-scale imaging techniques to study the materials Rembrandt used to paint his masterpiece. For this study, scientists have developed a special x-ray device. In addition, the scientists also studied tiny samples taken directly from the painting itself and studied them using synchrotron X-ray probes at the European Synchrotron Research Center (ESRF) in France and the PETRA-III radiation source in Germany.
After analyzing the data obtained, scientists discovered something surprising – an organometallic compound was present on Rembrandt's masterpiece – lead formate, which scientists had not previously encountered on any other piece of art. According to study author Victor Gonzalez of the Ecole Normale Paris-Saclay, the lead format was previously found in a painting only once in 2020, but it was found in model paintings that used fresh paint.
Gonzalez also noted that scientists not only found lead formats, but identified them in areas where no lead pigments were used – white or yellow. The researchers suggested that these lead formats are likely to disappear quickly, and therefore scientists did not notice them before in any of the paintings.
According to the scientific director of the Rijksmuseum, Professor Katrien Keune, this study sheds light on how the great artist worked and how best to preserve the work of art for future generations.
Keune notes that this finding provides researchers with a number of clues about the possible use of lead-based oil paint by Rembrandt, the potential impact of oil-based varnishes, and the nom chemical composition of historical oil paintings.