This Rembrandt has been hiding a surprising secret for centuries: ScienceAlert

The painting is 3.63 meters (12 ft) high and 4.37 meters wide. The painting is generally known as night watch It is the largest painting by Rembrandt. Centuries after its creation, we’re still uncovering the smallest details in its pigments, thanks to advances in modern technology.

A team of researchers from across Europe has discovered an unexpected molecule while studying the build-up of paint that makes up the famous artwork of the Dutch Golden Age.

Thanks to layers of pigments and other media such as primers and varnishes, pSemantics can vary in chemical structure in three dimensions. In addition to surface scans of the masterpiece, experts are working on the restoration project Night watch operation Accurate sampling through the layers of the famous painting.

In 2021, two years into the project, XRF macro Rembrandt revealed cartography original drawing Under the final version of night watch. By irradiating X-rays at the plate, the technologs force the pigments to absorb and then emit high-energy light in telltale ways, determining the different elemental distributions within the individual layers.

Reveal this appointment Lots of little details which were changed from the original drawing to what we can see today.

Black and white negative of the basic sketch of the famous painting.
By mapping high levels of calcium in the rich chalk paint that Rembrandt used in his preparatory sketches, the researchers revealed the underlying drawing. (Rijksmuseum)

However, it wasn’t just the pictures that caught the researcher’s attention. A technique called x-rays powder diffraction Detect the presence of lead formate, including the rare lead (II) formate, Pb (HCOO)2.

Commonly used in creating white and yellow pigments at the time, it is not surprising to find the element lead in a Rembrandt piece of art. However, only this particular class of lead compounds has been detected In studies modeling aging From old paints – not in the old paintings themselves.

“Not only do we detect lead formate, but we recognize it in areas where there is no lead pigment, white, yellow,” Explain French National Center for Photochemical Scientific Research Victor Gonzalez.

“We think it’s probably going away quickly, which is why it hasn’t been detected in older motherboards yet.”

The distribution of lead motifs indicates that they were more concentrated in some layers than others and associated with the paints of lighter colours.

Gonzalez and his colleagues modeled scenarios using various paint recipes known from the time.

Heat maps showing the distributions of lead compounds in the plate.
Different distributions of lead compounds in painting, the first being a common pigment for white paint. (Gonzalez et al., Angewandte Chemie, 2023)

“Thanks to the unique analytical performance of ESRF, the world’s brightest synchrotron light source, we are able to map the presence of formes at a micrometer scale, and follow their formation over time,” Explain Beamline Marine Cotte is a scientist from the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility (ESRF).

Their results indicate that Rembrandt mixed lead(II) oxide in his linseed oil painting medium for the lighter paint colors to help them dry. Reactions with other molecules over time converted this into lead formate. It seems that even the great masters of painting like Rembrandt could get impatient with this slow drying.

However, these formes are also likely to have originated from earlier restoration efforts, the team explains.

Previous attempts at restoration had resulted in massive changes to the painting, namely Actually it’s not a night scene at all. Many layers of varnish mixed with dirt darkened the scene to give this impression, which eventually gave rise to its common name by the end of the eighteenth century.

The official name of the board is The Militia Company in the 2nd District under the command of Captain Frans Panek Kokand night watch operation Now looking at How to remove these layers of varnish without disturbing the original painting underneath.

“In addition to providing information on Rembrandt’s pictorial techniques, this research opens new perspectives on the interaction of historical pigments, and thus on the preservation of heritage,” Says Analytical chemist Koen Janssens University of Antwerp.

In 2021, a missing bar that was cut away from the artwork is also painstakingly reconstructed with the help of AI.

“It really gives the painting a different dynamic,” museum director Taco Dibbets told the Associated Press. in time. “And what it taught us is that Rembrandt never does what you expect.”

Rembrandt was famous for his exploration of the materials, techniques, and compositions of painting, and discoveries made by the Night’s Watch researchers continue to prove this.

This study has been published in Angewandte Chemie International Edition.

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