A new painting, recently unveiled in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, looks remarkably like an example by famed artist Rembrandt van Rijn (REHM-brant van RYN). But the portrait depicting a 17th-century man isn’t a long-lost work by the Dutch artist, who died in 1669. It’s actually a modern creation based on a high-tech analysis of Rembrandt’s artworks.
The painting, called The Next Rembrandt, is the result of an 18-month collaboration between engineers, scientists, and art historians from organizations like Microsoft and Amsterdam’s Rembrandt House Museum. Their goal was to use state-of-the-art tools to re-create the techniques Rembrandt employed in his paintings.
“It is a way of keeping the great master alive,” says Bas Korsten, an executive at an advertising agency in Amsterdam, who came up with the idea for the project.
Rembrandt painted mostly portraits and is known for his use of light and shadow to highlight his subjects. Using a computer program, the team analyzed the visual elements in a large number of these paintings. An algorithm—a set of rules used to solve a problem—allowed the software to identify the shapes and proportions of faces in the artworks.
The program used the information to create the ideal Rembrandt subject: a bearded, middle-aged Caucasian male, wearing a dark hat, dark clothes, and a white collar and facing to the right.
Printed, Not Painted
When it was time to create the image, the team used a 3-D printer to apply layers of oil paint on a canvas. They even scanned the surfaces of Rembrandt’s paintings to examine their textures so the printer could mimic the artist’s brushstrokes.
Korsten hopes The Next Rembrandt will spark a conversation about art and technology. He stressed that the painting reconstructs Rembrandt’s style but not his talent. “We are creating something new from his work,” says Korsten. “Only Rembrandt could create a Rembrandt.”