X-Ray Analysis Reveals Mystery Behind Rembrandt Painting

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Rembrandt's masterpiece "The Night Watch" - Credit: Wikipedia

For decades, experts have searched for the part of Rembrandt’s painting, “The Night Watch” that is hidden in darkness. In 2023, researchers used X-ray analysis to study Rembrandt’s famous painting and discovered a lead-rich layer that had never been seen before in Rembrandt’s works.

This was the first evaluation in the painting’s 400-year history that combined X-rays with spectroscopy of a paint sample and 3D digital reconstructions. The lead-rich layer was found below the varnish and paint of the art piece.

“The Night Watch” is a painting by Rembrandt van Rijn completed in 1642. The painting depicts the captain of a militia company, the Civic Guard, as he leads his yellow-clad lieutenant as they round up the uniformed ranks. The guard was a commissioned group who were preventing attacks on Amsterdam.

Only 18 of the 34 characters in the scene are portraits of actual people; the remaining figures are symbolic, such as the young girl in yellow, who is the allegorical emblem of the guard.

For someone who is known for his technique of using impasto, a thick application of paint, to create texture and depth in his paintings, Researchers found in Rembrandt’s painting a lead-rich layer in “The Night Watch” to create a unique effect of light and shadow.

The authors of the research believe that Rembrandt used lead because of its ability to protect his canvas.

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