The Rembrandt Heritage Foundation wants to offer the Night Watch in 8,000 digital parts


An NFT (non-fungible token) of a piece of Night Watch.Statue Rembrandt Heritage Foundation

If you night watchman if you cut it into 8,000 pieces, you have parts of approximately 5 by 5 centimeters. Too bad of course. Nevertheless, that plan is now in place, but digitally: the Rembrandt Heritage Foundation wants to night watchman start offering in eight thousand NFTs. And oh yes, the Rijksmuseum, where night watchman has nothing to do with this action.

WTF is an NFT?

NFT is the abbreviation for non-fungible token, or a ‘non-exchangeable certificate’. It is proof of ownership of, for example, a digital artwork, image or song. This ownership is recorded in the blockchain. Usually, NFTs are traded in cryptocurrencies.

Does that sound insane? Well, Pim Slager from the Dutch foundation is used to mocking reactions, he says. Since 2006, his organization has organized exhibitions where all of Rembrandt’s paintings can be seen, more than three hundred in total. Not the originals, but full size reproductions. Dutch museums did not want to participate in it, they thought it was a strange idea.

Someone who was immediately on board with Slager was Rembrandt expert Ernst van der Wetering (1938-2021). He called the exhibitions ‘an ideal tour through Rembrandt’s oeuvre’. Van de Wetering, who precisely defined the 17th-century painter’s oeuvre with the Rembrandt Research Project, died a year ago. That night watchman-NFTs are now being launched ‘in his memory’. Anyone who buys a piece is a co-founder of a new digital Rembrandt museum in virtual reality.

Rembrandt expert Ernst van de Wetering (1938-2021).  Statue Rembrandt Heritage Foundation

Rembrandt expert Ernst van de Wetering (1938-2021).Statue Rembrandt Heritage Foundation

NFTs and Van de Wetering are not a natural combination. The Rembrandt expert was digitally savvy and didn’t even type on the computer himself. But his partner Carin van Nes, who often worked with him, said when asked that Van de Wetering ‘would be happy if his latest exhibition on Rembrandt in full-scale reproduction remains available worldwide.’

Without Van de Wetering, it would never have been possible to obtain good digital images of all the paintings. The expert knew where the works were (partly in private collections) and what they looked like. Slager: “He knew exactly which colors Rembrandt used. You can restore digitally much more rigorously than in real life.’ For example, Van de Wetering promised that the paintings on the prints looked ‘as if they had just left Rembrandt’s studio.’

The first two major Rembrandt exhibitions at the Beurs van Berlage in Amsterdam were a success, partly because the Rijksmuseum was closed for renovations in those years (2006 and 2009). A later permanent exhibition in the Magna Plaza shopping center in Amsterdam suffered a loss after the Rijksmuseum reopened: ‘We discovered that tourists only want to go to one museum when they are in Amsterdam.’ However, the Rembrandt prints successfully traveled to Tel Aviv, Tokyo and Wellington (New Zealand).

The night watch in 8,000 pieces.  Statue Rembrandt Heritage Foundation

The night watch in 8,000 pieces.Statue Rembrandt Heritage Foundation

In the case of night watchman the ‘digital restoration’ involved bringing the work back to its original greater state. Namely: plus the strips that were cut off later. Van de Wetering actually believed that the Rijksmuseum night watchman also had to restore with the lost strips, but he could not convince the museum. Butcher: ‘You can say that night watchman the image we have is ‘more real’ than the Rijksmuseum version.’

It is also the version that is cut into pieces. The NFTs will cost around 200 to 300 euros, says Slager. It is, for example, possible to ‘own’ the eye of Frans Banninck Cocq, or a pair of his fingers. But early buyers have to buy blind, so there’s also a chance they’ll end up with a digital image of an indistinct black or brown square.

The NFTs can then be traded on the large platform OpenSea. There already is night watchman-NFTs in circulation, but then of the familiar version of the painting that hangs in the Rijks. The Amsterdam museum has nothing to do with that either, says a spokesperson: ‘The Rijksmuseum has an open data policy, which means that everyone can also use royalty-free images for this kind of purpose.’ The Rembrandt Heritage Foundation hopes to use the NFT proceeds to open the ‘MetaRembrandt’ museum in virtual reality next year.

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