Close upon the face of Rembrandt’s Portrait of an Elderly Man (Copyright: Mauritshuis collection, The Hague)

Recreating Rembrandt

In the 350 years since Rembrandt’s death, his life has lost none of its mystery and his work none of its allure. Together they create a story and legacy that intrigues and endures.

Rare for an artist, Rembrandt enjoyed vast success in his lifetime, but it was counterbalanced with financial ruin in his later life and he died a pauper. It is felt that during these most turbulent times that he created his finest work, and historians look to these pieces in their continued search for insights into the final years of his life, about which little is known.

One such piece is his ‘Portrait of an Elderly Man’, painted two years before his death in 1667. It is an unusual portrait in that the subject looks slightly undone – his jacket open, collar loosened – and the paint is applied in corresponding loose style. It was far from what one might expect from a portrait of the time, when the fashion was for stately poses and fine brushwork. Although we still do not know who the elderly man is, Rembrandt captures a deep sense of dignity and reflection in later life. This piece has also captured imaginations at the Factum Foundation, a Madrid-based organisation, concerned with “the preservation, study and dissemination” of cultural heritage. In collaboration with – a Canon Group Company, they undertook the not insignificant challenge of creating an exact 3D reproduction of this iconic painting as part of the ‘Rembrandt and the Golden Age’ celebrations, taking place in the Netherlands this year.

Rembrandt’s Portrait of an Elderly Man (Copyright: Mauritshuis collection, The Hague)
Rembrandt’s Portrait of an Elderly Man (Copyright: Mauritshuis collection, The Hague)
The Lucida 3D Scanner digitising the surface of the painting (Copyright: The Factum Foundation)
The Lucida 3D Scanner digitising the surface of the painting (Copyright: The Factum Foundation)

The Factum team needed to accurately capture both the texture and the colour of the painting – a particularly difficult task. “Rembrandt applied his paint as if he was sculpting it,” says Charlotte Rulkens, Curator at the Mauritshuis, which owns the original work. In this fashion, the thickness of his paint varies tremendously throughout the piece. “The jacket is painted so thinly and loosely that the underlying paint layer remains visible in places. The cuffs consist of only a few broad brushstrokes and the cords of the collar were painted in one flowing movement,” explains Charlotte. “With the back of his brush he scratched in the paint of the hat, to make the suggestion of hair.”

The canvas was recorded using the non-contact Lucida 3D Scanner, which Factum designed and built in collaboration with the artist and engineer Manuel Franquelo. It has previously scanned over 180 paintings of historical significance around the world and took around four hours to record the 82 x 68cm Rembrandt canvas. The scan generates 3D information in many and various formats, which is then combined with a colour recording, where hundreds of high-resolution shots are taken from a single point. Together these form a single image file.

A man holds a Canon camera with a professional lens and takes a photo.
Gabriel Scarpa of Factum Foundation takes a colour recording of the painting (Copyright: Factum Foundation)

This final file was used by to output a perfect replica of ‘Portrait of an Elderly Man’, with every colour and brushstroke rendered to incredible precision using their Elevated Printing Technology, which creates the textured surface of the replica by ‘stacking’ multiple layers of 2 to 40μm thickness ink on top of each other with extremely high accuracy. Each layer must be fixed and cured before proceeding to the next and colour is applied immediately after the top of the elevation in a layer is achieved. For Raymond op het Roodt, Product Manager Elevated Printing, it is in the colour where the true technical challenges lie, “there always are conversions from original to photographic colour capturing to colour printing. As the elevation is captured via 3D scanning, it matches the original perfectly. This 3D data is converted to a depth map by Factum, which we can easily process in our regular Elevated Printing Technology.”

Copyright: Factum Foundation

The final result is remarkable. True to the colour and texture of Rembrandt’s original, yet safe to touch. It is perhaps appropriate, given that Rembrandt himself placed the human experience at the centre of his works, that The Mauritshuis plans to use the replica for educational purposes and it will form part of its ‘Hello Rembrandt!’ exhibition during the summer holidays (20th July to 15th September 2019), where families will be able to find out more about the master and his work through interactive presentations, games and activities.

The Mauritshuis has one of the most renowned and important collections of paintings by Rembrandt in the world. Until 15th September 2019, the museum will exhibit all eighteen paintings in its collection that are or have been attributed to Rembrandt.

Written by Anna Shaw

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