Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Rembrandt Remastered

By Iola Goulton

In the last school holidays, I took the children (well, teenagers) to the nearby city of Rotorua to visit the Rembrandt Remastered exhibition currently on display at the Rotorua Museum (thanks, Jebraun Clifford, for the Instagram posts which alerted me to this exhibition!).

My daughter loves art, so she was keen to see the exhibition. We forced my son to come, mostly so he wouldn’t spend the entire day playing Minecraft (instead, he spent the day chasing and catching Pokemon. Go figure).

Anyway, the exhibition was fascinating. It wasn’t actual Rembrandt paintings—which are worth a fortune—but life-sized photographs. They ranged in size from several small self-portraits smaller than a standard A4 (or US Letter) sheet of paper to The Night Watch, restored to which is 388 cm by 504 cm (approximately thirteen feet tall and sixteen feet wide).

The Night Watch from Rembrandt Remastered
The restored full-size version  of Militia Company of District II under the Command of Captain Frans Bannick Cocq, better known as The Night Watch. The original was trimmed on all four sides in 1715, presumably to better fit in its new home in the Amsterdam Town Hall.
Each picture has been digitally remastered in an attempt to illustrate what they looked like when Rembrandt finished them, rather than covered with centuries of grime—or worse. Several of the original paintings no longer look like they did in Rembrandt's day. Some paintings have been altered in size. A couple have been vandalised by knives, and one was the victim of an acid attack. Two more of the pictures were stolen in 1990, and their current whereabouts is unknown.

The Before and After. Although even this doesn't do it justice.
You might think that the fact the pictures are “only” photographs would take away some of the skill and grandeur.

It didn’t.

We could still see the brushstrokes in the photographs. We could still see the holes in the lace collar of Rembrandt’s frame maker, the sinews in the arm of the corpse in The Anatomy Lesson, every hair in St Paul’s beard. Detail so precise it looks like a photograph. Really. How can anyone paint with that level of detail? (No, I am no artist.)

Much more disturbing in full size, where you can actually see the grey of the corpse.

Also, notice how the collars of the gentlemen get darker grey the further they are back in the painting? Rembrand pioneered this technique. It takes into account atmospheric perspective, which is what gives that blue tint to green hills as seen from a distance. In Rembrandt's time, they called this 'thickness of the air', and he used it to give the impression of spatial distance.

And we could get close enough to see. 

While no one would dare touch the pictures, there were no guards. No ropes. Nothing to stop us getting as close as we wanted. And the exhibition was relatively empty, despite it being a fine day in the middle of the school holidays. There was no one to get in our way as we took as many photos as we wanted.

The colours were amazing, especially the sea in Christ in the storm on the Lake of Galilee (which also seemed a lot more stormy than the storm rendered in my imagination as I read the relevant passage in the Bible). The notes beside the pictures explained some of the techniques Rembrandt pioneered, such as the way he used light and shadow to give his paintings depth. Simply brilliant.

They also showed how x-rays had revealed pictures under the paintings, and how some of the paintings have been cut down over time. For example, the version of The Night Watch we saw (which took a whole wall) was a couple of feet taller and wider than the “real” version currently on display at the Rijksmuseum (although the copy on display at London’s National Gallery is of the full-size original).

I found the whole exhibition fascinating, both the paintings and the expertise behind them. It reminds me there is always more than what we see on the surface, and that there is a story behind everything.

I enjoy looking for those stories. Do you?

Thanks to for the photographs I've used in this blog post. Because the pictures I took looked more like the dingy originals than the remastered versions. And even these pictures are dingy in comparison to the full-size versions.

About Iola Goulton

I am a freelance editor specialising in Christian fiction. Visit my website at to download a comprehensive list of publishers of Christian fiction. 

I also write contemporary Christian romance with a Kiwi twist—find out more

You can also find me on:
Facebook (Author)
Facebook (Editing)


  1. Thanks Iola. What a great exhibition! How fantastic to get so close to see such details. Thank you for sharing!

    1. And thanks to Jebraun Clifford, for unintentionally letting me know it was on!

  2. Wow, I wish I could have gone to that exhibition. Fascinating.