Computer “Studies” Rembrandt’s Style and Produces 3D Printed Painting

The 17th century portrait master has some modern competition.

4. 14. 16 by Sarah Marquart
The Next Rembrandt

Updating the Classics

Rembrandt was arguably the first artist to really master the “selfie,” and he did so all the way back in the 1600s. Now, a team of technologists working with Microsoft are bringing Rembrandt’s technique into the modern age—they have produced a 3D printed painting in the style of the Dutch master. 

“Our goal was to make a machine that works like Rembrandt,” Emmanuel Flores, director of technology for the project, told the BBC. “We will understand better what makes a masterpiece a masterpiece.”

Credit: The Next Rembrandt

To accomplish this feat, data on Rembrandt’s works was gathered by computers, which discovered patterns in how he would paint certain features, like facial features, for example. Then, machine-learning algorithms were created that could output a new portrait in the familiar Rembrandt style.

The team did tell the computer to work within certain parameters, in order to limit the number of possible outcomes. The program was instructed to produce a portrait of a Caucasian male between the ages of 30 and 40, with facial hair. He would be wearing black clothes, have a white collar and a hat, and be facing to the right. The finished design was then 3D-printed in order to give it the same texture as an oil painting. 


There’s No Substitute

It might sound like there was a lot of crafting involved during pre-production, but humans didn’t decide the final look or feel of the portrait—they just chose the algorithms.

“We found that with certain variations in the algorithm, for example, the hair might be distributed in different ways,” explained Mr Flores.

Despite the finished product, which really does look like a Rembrandt, Flores isn’t getting cocky: “I don’t think we can substitute Rembrandt – Rembrandt is unique,” he notes.

The two-year project, entitled “The Next Rembrandt,” was a collaboration between Microsoft, financial firm ING, Delft University of Technology, and two Dutch art museums. A public exhibition of the portrait is planned, but no date has been announced.


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