So masterful are the great artists of the 17th-century Dutch Golden Age that even 400 years later, we seek to emulate their work in portraiture. And recreate them we have, in truly spectacular fashion. The intersection of technology and art has produced a work entitled “The Next Rembrandt,” a title that refers to both the artist and the subject. Produced — we hesitate to say painted — by a computer, the piece is a stunning portrait of the legendary Dutch artist, one that relied upon 168,263 Rembrandt painting fragments and is comprised of over 148 million pixels.
The entire work took 18 months to complete, and is a curious commentary on the use of data and computer science to produce a work evocative of the emotion and sensitivity we’d like to think only humans possess.
The portrait itself is a true original — while it may look like it came out of Rembrandt’s workshop (and in a way, it did), the painter never created anything of this likeness during his lifetime. “We really wanted to understand what makes a face look like a Rembrandt,” Emmanuel Flores, director of technology for the project, told the BBC. This meant the tireless analysis of over 300 paintings, which gave way to an algorithm that would emulate the classic Rembrandt style. The information was finally sent to a 3D printer, which utilized 13 layers of paint-based UV ink to create the final work.
Bas Korsten, the advertising executive who came up with the idea, noted that skeptics abounded when he first pitched the concept. “The idea was greeted with a lot of disbelief and skepticism,” he said. “Also coming up with the idea is one thing, bringing it to life is another.”
A veritable army of experts contributed to the massive effort, including scientists, developers, engineers, and art historians from organizations like Microsoft, Delft University of Technology, the Mauritshuis in The Hague, and the Rembrandt House Museum in Amsterdam. But the finished product is something to be proud of.
Ultimately, Korsten says, the process was about “getting to know more about Rembrandt and what made Rembrandt Rembrandt.” And while we may never be able to bring the genius back to life, it looks like we might have found a way to make him immortal.