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A new Rembrandt, painted by data analysis

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 05, 2016

A group of organizations, including Microsoft and the Rembrandthuis museum, have collaborated to produce a new painting by Rembrandt. Or rather, “by” Rembrandt. The team wrote software that analyzed the Dutch master’s entire catalog of paintings and used the data to create a 3D-printed Rembrandt-esque painting.

We now had a digital file true to Rembrandt’s style in content, shapes, and lighting. But paintings aren’t just 2D — they have a remarkable three-dimensionality that comes from brushstrokes and layers of paint. To recreate this texture, we had to study 3D scans of Rembrandt’s paintings and analyze the intricate layers on top of the canvas.

I’d say they did pretty well:

Next Rembrandt

I wonder though, to what extent is this an averaged Rembrandt? According to the program, is there one canonical Rembrandt-esque eye and that’s it? Or can the program paint dozens of variations? After all, because he was (presumably) working with actual people, Rembrandt himself had hundreds or thousands of ways to paint, it wasn’t just the same sort of mouth over and over.

See also Loving Vincent and Alice in a Neural Networks Wonderland. (thx, lucas)

Update: Peter Schjeldahl, art critic for the New Yorker, weighs in on The Next Rembrandt.

In truth, the portrait wobbles at a second glance and crashes at a third. The sitter has a sparkle of personality but utterly lacks the personhood — the being-ness — that never eluded Rembrandt. He is an actor, acting.

He also calls it “fan fiction”.