For the last four decades, researchers have been trying to uncover the mysterious figure that lurks behind the old military man in Rembrandt’s 380-year-old painting, entitled An Old Man in Military Costume. Although discovered back in 1968, the hidden figure was, until now, an indiscernible shadow, too vague to be captured by the available imaging technologies. Using a highly-advanced digital X-ray technique, scientists have finally managed to get a better look at the image that, interestingly, appears to be of a much younger man.
The presence of the secret painting was noted when the artwork, which currently resides at the Getty Museum, was X-rayed for the first time. So far, the lack of sophisticated imaging tools, however, prevented the researchers from acquiring a clearer picture of the figure. Recently published in the Applied Physics A journal, the new research, titled “Rembrandt’s An Old Man in Military Costume: the underlying image reexamined”, attempts a color reconstruction of the mystery man, using macro-X-ray fluorescence scanning( also known as macro-XRF or MA-XRF).
The technique has allowed scientists, at the Getty Conservation Institute, to safely examine the chemical composition of the artwork, matching individual elements to specific paint colors. For instance, lead is usually found in white paint, while mercury indicates the presence of red pigment. Copper is generally associated with blue and green color, and iron with umber. After careful analysis, the researchers have arrived at the image of a young man, with brown hair, a collar and an olive cloak, turned 180-degrees from the old military man. Speaking about the technology, Karen Trentelman, a scientist on the team, said:
As analytical tools become more portable and more affordable, we can now bring the instrument to the painting, rather than the other way around… What’s also exciting about the macro XRF scanner is that it produces scientific data as images, which are a universal language. I’ve never seen our curators as excited by data as they were on that day. I wasn’t showing them graphs with lines, I was showing them pictures.
Working during the Dutch Golden Age, Rembrandt was known to reuse canvases and wood panels, often painting right over the initial piece. One such example is Rembrandt Laughing. The researchers will continue their work, trying to reconstruct the mystery man’s clothing in greater details as well as examining the changes in the painting’s colors over the years. Yvonne Szafran, the museum’s paintings conservator said:
We think of Rembrandt’s colors as being rich but luminous, but some of them have altered as they aged… As new and innovative equipment develops, it will be exciting to see what future investigations reveal.
Source: The Getty Iris