“Can the great master be brought back to life to create a new painting?”
That’s the question asked by a team which has just revealed a “new Rembrandt”.
It’s not a portrait found in the dusty attic of a Dutch farmhouse. It’s a real, new portrait, created with technology and data.
Setting out to create something new in the way “Rembrandt used his paints and his brushes”, the team gathered the data from extensive collections of the great master’s works.
From 346 paintings, they spent more than 500 hours scanning 150GB of digitally rendered graphics.
They focused on portraits, and gathered data on those aspects most shared by Rembrandt’s portraits – gender, age, head direction.
Cruncing the numbers, the team found the typical Rembrandt portrait subject would:
- Be Caucasian
- Be male
- Have facial hair
- Be 30-40 years old
- Wear dark clothing, with a collar and a hat, and
- Face to the right
The team then went back to the collection and began analysing all the portraits which matched those characteristics “To extract the features which made Rembrandt, Rembrandt.”
Next, they found an average distance between facial features:
And finally, perhaps most importantly, they studied Rembrandt’s brush strokes, measuring the thickness of the paint he’d laid down:
And into the 3D printer some 148 million pixels of data went, where it was built into a modern masterpiece, if not of art, then at least of technology:
347 years after Rembrandt’s death. Impressive.
But why do it?
ING, which sponsored the project, say it “believes in the power of innovation, what it can mean to people”.
“We want to bring this innovative spirit to our sponsorship of Dutch art and culture.”
And Microsoft, which led the technology side of things, say it has been using data to improve business life, but “haven’t been using data that much in a way that touches the human soul”.
But so far, it looks like the only thing they touched was a nerve. Of the purists, who believe that Rembrandt would have been outraged by the plagiarism and wouldn’t have chosena rich, middle-aged white guy as his subject.
And the technologists, who play the whole thing cool and claim anyone can scan and 3D a masterpiece.
Of course, they’re just the commentors. And here’s what Rembrandt thought of those (critic, left, with hare’s ears, artist bottom right):
Here’s the full video of the making of “The Next Rembrandt”: