Computer-generated ‘Rembrandt’ painting unveiled, but not everyone is impressed

A new "Rembrandt" painting, created by scientists and technicians based on digital analysis of the artist's known body of work, is unveiled Tuesday in Amsterdam.

A new “Rembrandt” painting, created by scientists and technicians based on digital analysis of the artist’s known body of work, is unveiled Tuesday in Amsterdam.

(Robin van Lonkhuijsen / EPA)
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A computer-generated portrait created in the style of 17th century Dutch master Rembrandt van Rijn was unveiled this week, with its makers saying that they based the new piece on extensive digital analysis of the artist’s known body of work.

Organizers said the new “painting” -- which depicts a bearded man in slight profile and wearing period attire -- was created using a 3-D printer to mimic the uneven surface of an actual painting. The original work was formally unveiled at a press event earlier this week in Amsterdam.


The largely Dutch team scanned more than 300 paintings by Rembrandt and employed algorithms to analyze such criteria as facial proportions, head direction and the thickness of the painting on the canvas.

They determined that the quintessential Rembrandt subject would be a Caucasian male between 30 and 40, with a beard and hat, and facing toward the right. The team then extracted details from its database related to that specific profile, according to Emmanuel Flores, the project’s technology director.

“We had to create a whole painting from just data,” said Ben Haanstra, a lead developer, in a video for the project. The team used the data to create typically “Rembrandt” facial features, and computer programs to determine the proper facial proportions.

A 3-D printer created multiple layers to imitate the rough surface of a real painting, using a special ultraviolet ink.

The ambitious project was conceived by Bas Korsten, creative director of the advertising firm J. Walter Thompson, with support from ING, the Dutch financial services company, and Microsoft.

Two art museums also participated in the project -- the Rembrandt House Museum in Amsterdam and the Mauritshuis in The Hague.


The endeavor has generated publicity worldwide, but not everyone has been impressed.

“What a horrible, tasteless, insensitive and soulless travesty of all that is creative in human nature,” wrote art critic Jonathan Jones in the Guardian. “What these silly people have done is to invent a new way to mock art.”

This isn’t the first time that science has tried to capture the essence of a famous artist.

The 2013 documentary “Tim’s Vermeer” followed an American computer engineer’s attempt to exactly replicate Johannes Vermeer’s painting “The Music Lesson” using devices of his own invention.

Rembrandt, who died in Amsterdam in 1669, is most noted for his finely detailed portraits of prominent members of Dutch society, as well as his many self-portraits.


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