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REMBRANDT’S A.I. PALS

EVEN SEVENTEENTH-CENTURY ARTISTS can profit from Artificial Intelligence. An example is given in Nina Siegal’s “Rembrandt’s Damaged Masterpiece Is Whole Again, With A.I.’s Help” in The New York Times, June 23, 2021.

This and following images by Ilvy Njiokiktjien for The New York Times, June 23, 2021.

Cut to Fit. A Dutch national icon, Rembrandt’s The Night Watch,1642, was trimmed in 1715 to fit between two doors in Amsterdam’s Town Hall. This, of course, is akin to lopping off the Statue of Liberty’s crown to meet neighborhood height limits. 

“Since the 19th century,” Siegal reports, “the trimmed painting has been housed in the Rijksmuseum, where it is displayed as the museum’s centerpiece, as the focal point of its Gallery of Honor.”

The trim, down to about 15 ft. wide by 13 ft. high, was an irregular one. Siegal describes: “About two feet from the left of the canvas was shaved off, and another nine inches from the top. Lesser damage was done to the bottom, which lost about five inches, and the right side, which lost three.”

Reimaging Art. Painters could have attempted reconstructing Rembrandt’s missing portions, but Robert Erdmann, the museum’s senior scientist, chose an A.I. technique known as convolutional neural networks. The process is akin to photo-altering techniques that identify and then clone or delete adjacent image data.

Museum specialists began by scanning the margins of the existing masterpiece, then letting A.I. assess Rembrandt’s technique to construct images of the missing portions. These scans were printed on canvas, attached to metal plates, and varnished to simulate the original.

A plate being prepped.

Then the plates were positioned next to the original for exhibition.

Images being arranged in place.

A New Assessment. Siegel says, “Now, from Wednesday—for the first time in more than three centuries—it will be possible for the public to see the painting ‘nearly as it was intended,’ said the museum’s director, Taco Dibbits.”

Siegal writes, “Once the new pieces were restored, so was the balance, Dibbits said. ‘You really get the physical feeling that Banninck Cocq and his colleagues really walk towards you,’ he added.”

The original displayed with its new panels.

Rembrandt: Image-Bomber? Siegal reports, “Looking at the group of militia men standing just over Banninck Cocq’s shoulder, it is possible to see the top of someone’s head— a hat, a nose and an eye, looking out at the viewer. The figure looks suspiciously like the artist.” 

Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn, 1606–1669, Dutch draughtsman, printmaker, and painter extraordinaire. Self-portrait, 1659.

“That’s so like Rembrandt,” Dibbits said. “To position himself right in the middle. It’s part of the process of getting to know the painting in the best way possible,” he added, “as we didn’t know it before.” 

The A.I. personage prefers anonymity. Thus far. ds

© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2021

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