Museum starts ‘live’ restoration of Rembrandt masterpiece

Amsterdam's famed Rijksmuseum will on July 8, 2019 begin the biggest ever restoration of Rembrandt's "The Night Watch", erecting a huge glass cage around the painting so the public can see the work carried out live. (AFP/Charles Onians)
Updated 08 July 2019
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Museum starts ‘live’ restoration of Rembrandt masterpiece

  • The multi-million-euro overhaul of the giant 1642 masterpiece, one of the world’s most famous paintings, will also be streamed online
  • Dubbed “Operation Night Watch,” the project is the “largest and most comprehensive research on Rembrandt’s masterpiece in history”

AMSTERDAM: Amsterdam’s famed Rijksmuseum will on Monday begin the biggest ever restoration of Rembrandt’s “The Night Watch,” erecting a huge glass cage around the painting so the public can see the work carried out live.
The multi-million-euro overhaul of the giant 1642 masterpiece, one of the world’s most famous paintings, will also be streamed online so that “everyone in the world” can see.
Dubbed “Operation Night Watch,” the project is the “largest and most comprehensive research on Rembrandt’s masterpiece in history,” the museum said in a statement.
“Operation Night Watch aims to preserve the painting optimally for the future and takes place in front of the public in a specially designed glass room.”
Rembrandt Van Rijn was commissioned by the mayor and leader of the civic guard of Amsterdam, Frans Banninck Cocq, to paint the picture of the officers and other members of the so-called “Night Watch” militia.
Experts say the groundbreaking three meter by four meter (nine by 13 feet) picture is the first of its kind to show such a group in motion, rather than in static poses, and features the interplay of light and shadow that the Dutch master is famed for.
Over the last three centuries Rembrandt’s brooding painting has endured travails including an escape from the Nazis, losing large chunks from each side during a move, and three attacks by vandals.
The last major restoration work was carried out 40 years ago after a mentally ill man slashed it with a knife, and it is now housed in its own special room in the Rijksmuseum.
But experts have recently noticed changes to the painting, with a white haze appearing on some parts, especially in the area around the knife damage, where it is bleaching out the figure of a small dog.
The museum wants to “understand how the changes are happening and the best way to restore it,” director Taco Dibbits said when he unveiled the project in October.
Experts will examine the painting using high-resolution photography and computer analysis of every layer including varnish, paint and canvas before deciding on the best restoration techniques.
The work will then take place in a glass case designed by French architect Jean-Michel Wilmotte, who was behind revamps of both the Rijksmuseum and the Louvre gallery in Paris.
“This research and restoration will be carried out with the world watching... so that everyone in the world, no matter where they are, can see,” Dibbits added.


Sheikha Alyazia’s ‘mishmash’ of ancient and modern

Her “Mishmash Trails” featured cave-like shapes cut in marble, with the treasure taking the form of imagined ancient eastern coins. (Supplied)
Updated 23 July 2019
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Sheikha Alyazia’s ‘mishmash’ of ancient and modern

  • Inside the Emirati artist’s inaugural solo exhibition in London, ‘I Met a Traveler From an Antique Land’

LONDON: You are searching for treasure. Several potential locations are marked with an ‘x’ on your map. You move methodically from site to site, always to be met with disappointment — never striking gold. Are you, in following trails set by others, missing the treasure ‘hidden’ in plain view?

This is one of the conundrums posed in the artworks of Sheikha Alyazia Bint Nahyan Al-Nahyan, whose inaugural solo exhibition in London presented a thought-provoking range of work fusing the ancient past with modern life.

Her “Mishmash Trails” featured cave-like shapes cut in marble, with the treasure taking the form of imagined ancient eastern coins, reflecting Arab, Roman and Phoenician influences. She described the coins, embedded in the marble, as symbolic of the great treasures buried in secret locations that were sought out and fought over by many. 

Al-Nahyan named her exhibition — held at Pi Artworks from June 25 to July 7 — with the opening line of Percy Bysshe Shelley’s famous poem “Ozymandias”: “I met a traveler from an antique land.” (Ozymandias is the Greek name for the Egyptian Pharaoh Ramesses II.)

Mishmash Dirham. (Supplied) 

The poem, published in 1818, imagines a meeting between the narrator and a traveller who describes a ruined statue lying in the desert. The description of the statue is a meditation on the fragility of human power and on the effects of time: “My name is Ozymandias, king of kings/Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!/Nothing beside remains: round the decay/Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare/The lone and level sands stretch far away.”

“Maybe a positive thing from looking to the past is that it proves it is only human to repeat the mistake and the lesson,” Al-Nahyan told Arab News. “Studying the past is a realization of human nature, individually or in groups, right or wrong. This natural feeling of connectivity is something I usually aim for.”

There is humor in some of her work — particularly the depictions of old commercial airline advertisements from the 1950s and 60s with ancient figures superimposed in the frames. They certainly give the viewer pause for thought about how much our world has changed in the short time since air travel became widely available.

The exhibition’s curator, Janet Rady, said of Al-Nahyan: “She has been practicing art from a very young age and is self-taught. She is incredibly talented, and you see this in the wide range of her work, which uses all sorts of different media. I can’t necessarily call her a pop artist or a collage artist or an installation artist; she is in fact all of these things, but it is the concept behind her work — connecting the past with the present — which is important.”

The UAE’s UK ambassador, Mansoor Abulhoul, was present at the opening and he particularly admired Al-Nahyan’s works based on the classic wooden board game Carrom paired with a modern video game.

Carrom Station in Motion. (Supplied) 

“I first played Carrom with my cousins as a boy, and she has combined it with modern computer games, which is very creative,” he said. He pointed out that her innovative work ties in well with the dynamic of the UAE.

“Next year we have EXPO 2020, with its theme ‘Connecting Minds, Creating the Future.’ It’s very much about our roots and how we take them forward, how we develop the mind and global cooperation,” he said. 

The exhibition included a short clip from Al-Nahyan’s upcoming film “Athel,” written by Al-Nahyan’s sister, Sheikha Shamsa. It centers on a strange encounter in the desert between a pre-Islamic poet and a modern-day TV presenter. “Athel” is set for release later this year and stars Hala Shiha and Mansour Al-Fili.

“The idea behind it all is taken from the tradition of Arabic poetry — its wisdom and, sometimes, risks,” Al-Nahyan explained. “And ending with a realization of one tribal law putting redemption and family before all.” She added that there are some “light-hearted” moments in the film too.

Arabic poetry is an ongoing inspiration for Al-Nahyan’s work, adding another layer of meaning to many of her pieces.

“The Arabic language is poetic, and Arabs and other cultures around the world have documented their lives through poetry,” she said. “So, for example, when tackling the topic of what is considered treasure, we found different meanings in various verses. Like when (pre-Islamic poet) Zuhair Bin Abi Salma refers to glory as the only true treasure.”

There is a much to absorb and reflect on in this exhibition which opens windows into many facets of Arab history and culture and poses universal questions about humanity and what constitutes real treasure.