X-rays uncover hidden faces in Rembrandt painting

Lead paint under the surface gives away artist’s indecisiveness

HIDDEN LAYERS  Using intense X-ray beams, scientists discovered three other locations that Rembrandt considered placing the servant (the character without a hat) in his 1662 painting “Syndics of the Drapers’ Guild.” Two of the hidden faces were found on the right edge of the painting, and the other was between the two right-side drapers.

Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn/Wikimedia Commons

CHICAGO – Even the best artists hem and haw over their work, including Rembrandt. An intense X-ray beam has revealed that the artist painted the same face in four locations on one canvas before settling on one spot and covering up the rest.

The oil painting, Rembrandt’s 1662 “Syndics of the Drapers’ Guild,” depicts five drapers — cloth experts — working while a servant behind them looks out at the viewer.

Chemist Joris Dik of the Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands examined the piece for cryptic features using a portable, high-powered tube that shoots a beam of X-rays into the painting’s canvas. The technique identifies materials at the surface and in the subsurface of the painting.

Dik reported February 14 at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science that just micrometers under the surface, buried layers of white lead paint outlined three additional iterations of the servant’s face in various locations.

The find shows how chemistry and new technology can give insight into the thought processes of historical artists as they created their masterpieces, Dik suggested.

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