Rembrandt broke new artistic ground by using a lead-based canvas for his masterpiece “The Night Watch,” reveals new research.
The Dutch artist used lead to protect his most famous painting from moisture, a new study has revealed.
Experts believe their research is evidence of his ground-breaking way of working and refusal to shy away from new techniques.
The team analyzed a paint sample from the Dutch artist’s 1642 masterpiece and discovered that his first step had been to impregnate it with a lead-containing substance.
This use of lead has never before been observed with painters from Rembrandt’s era according to the study, published in the journal Science Advances.
The discovery was made after a team of academics used a correlated x-ray fluorescence and ptychographic nano-tomography on a sample from “The Night Watch” – marking the first time this had been done on a historical piece of art.
Analysis of the sample then revealed that on the side closest to the canvas, the first ‘layer’ of the painting, there was a coating of lead.
Lead author and Rijksmuseum researcher Dr. Fréderique Broers, and University of Amsterdam’s Katrien Keune, University of Antwerp’s Koen Janssens, and Utrecht University’s Florian Meirer then scanned the whole map of ‘The Night Watch’, again using x-ray fluorescence, and found evidence of lead throughout the painting.
The discovery suggested that the lead had been applied using large, semi-circular brushstrokes – which supported the hypothesis that it resulted from an impregnation procedure.
Previous research has established that Rembrandt used a quartz-clay ground on ‘The Night Watch’ and that he often opted for double grounds, consisting of red earth pigments and lead white paint, in some of his earlier paintings.
This research team suggest that the artist may have been on the look-out for a cheaper, lighter, and more flexible alternative when he started ‘The Night Watch’, which is why he opted for lead.
However, there is also the possibility that Rembrandt may have been considering how to make his painting more durable, which provides a further, more discerning insight into his creative process.
Dr. Broers explained: “The large size of ‘The Night Watch’ may have motivated Rembrandt to look for a less expensive, less heavy, and more flexible alternative for the ground layer.
“Another issue he had to overcome was that the large canvas was intended for a damp outer wall of the great hall of the Kloveniersdoelen, (musketeers’ shooting range), in Amsterdam.”
She added: “It had been reported that under humid conditions the common method of preparing the canvas using animal glue could fail.
“A contemporary source on painting techniques written by Théodore de Mayerne suggested impregnation with lead-rich oil as an alternative.
“This may have inspired Rembrandt for his unusual impregnation procedure to improve the durability of his masterpiece.”
Produced in association with SWNS Talker
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