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Posts Tagged ‘amsterdam’

Photo: Remko de Waal/ANP/AFP via Getty Images.
Rembrandt’s restored ‘Night Watch’ at the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam.

A project to restore a Rembrandt called “Night Watch” has received a lot of attention recently, but at the risk of repeating what you already know, I’d just like to point out that trimming a work of art can seriously affect its greatness.

How many times have building renovations cut paintings to fit or squashed them into too small a space to be properly appreciated. I think, for example, of the many special WPA paintings in US post offices that have been significantly altered over the years. I understand competing needs, but it’s a loss.

What was lost in Rembrandt’s ‘Night Watch,’ the New York Times says, was a sense of movement. The original was “asymmetrical: The large arch that stands behind the crowd was in the middle, and the group’s leaders were on the right. Rembrandt painted them this way to create a sense of movement through the canvas.

“Once the new pieces were restored, so was the balance, [said Rijksmuseum’s director, Taco Dibbits.] ‘You really get the physical feeling that Banninck Cocq and his colleagues really walk towards you.’ “

The main focus of the recent news coverage, however, was on how experts used artificial intelligence (AI) — along with an early copy of the original painting — to reimagine Rembrandt’s intentions.

Nina Siegal reported at the Times, “Rembrandt’s “The Night Watch” has been a national icon in the Netherlands ever since it was painted in 1642, but even that didn’t protect it.

“In 1715, the monumental canvas was cut down on all four sides to fit onto a wall between two doors in Amsterdam’s Town Hall. The snipped pieces were lost. Since the 19th century, the trimmed painting has been housed in the Rijksmuseum, where it is displayed as the museum’s centerpiece, at the focal point of its Gallery of Honor.

“[Now] for the first time in more than three centuries, it will be possible for the public to see the painting ‘nearly as it was intended,’ said the museum’s director, Taco Dibbits. …

“Rather than hiring a painter to reconstruct the missing pieces, the museum’s senior scientist, Robert Erdmann, trained a computer to recreate them pixel by pixel in Rembrandt’s style. A project of this complexity was possible thanks to a relatively new technology known as convolutional neural networks, a class of artificial-intelligence algorithms designed to help computers make sense of images, Erdmann said.”

As amazing as AI is, the work would not have been possible if a less renowned painter hadn’t made an early copy of Rembrandt’s work.

“Indications already existed of how the original ‘Night Watch’ likely looked,” Siegal continues, “thanks to a copy made by Gerrit Lundens, another 17th-century Dutch painter. He made his replica within 12 years of the original, before it was trimmed.

“Lundens’s copy is less than one-fifth the size of Rembrandt’s monumental canvas, but it is thought to be mostly faithful to the original. It was useful as a model for the missing pieces, even if Lundens’s style was nowhere near as detailed as Rembrandt’s. Lundens’s composition is also much looser, with the figures spread out more haphazardly across the canvas, so it could not be used to make a one-to-one reconstruction.

“The Rijksmuseum recently made high-resolution scans of Rembrandt’s ‘Night Watch,’ as part of a multimillion-dollar, multiyear restoration project, initiated in 2019. Those scans provided Erdmann with precise information about the details and colors in Rembrandt’s original, which the algorithms used to recreate the missing sections using Lundens’s copy as a guide. The images were then printed on canvas, attached to metal plates for stability and varnished to look like a painting.” More at the Times, here.

The Guardian also covered the story, quoting the Dibbits as saying, “With the addition especially on the left and the bottom, an empty space is created in the painting where they march towards. When the painting was cut [the lieutenants] were in the centre, but Rembrandt intended them to be off-centre marching towards that empty space, and that is the genius that Rembrandt understands: you create movement, a dynamic of the troops marching towards the left of the painting. …

“I am always hoping that somebody will call up one day to say that they have the missing pieces. I can understand that the bottom part and top might not be saved but on the left hand you have three figures, so it is surprising that they didn’t surface because at the time in 1715 Rembrandt was already much appreciated and an expensive artist.”

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When homes are destroyed in disaster zones, the Mobile Factory can turn the rubble into Lego-like building blocks to create new housing. They snap together without mortar.

Stella Dawson of the Thomson Reuters Foundation writes, “In Amsterdam a mobile factory, the size of two shipping containers, ingests rubble at one end, liquifies it into cement, and spurts out Lego-shaped building blocks.

“Call it rubble for the people, converting the deadly debris from disasters into homes and hospitals, cheaply and quickly.

“It’s the brainchild of Gerard Steijn, a 71-year-old sustainable development consultant turned social entrepreneur, who leads the Netherlands-based project to recycle the rubble from natural disasters and wars.

“He plans to create ecologically sound and safe housing by producing 750 building blocks a day from the debris, enough for one home at a cost of less than $20,000 each.

” ‘In disasters, you have piles and piles of rubble, and the rubble is waste. If you are rich, you buy more bricks and rebuild your home,’ Steijn said in a telephone interview.

‘But what happens if you are poor? In disasters it is the poorest people who live in the weakest houses and they loose their homes first. I thought, what if you recycled the rubble to build back better homes for poor people?’

“His rubble-busting Mobile Factory has fired the imagination of a landowner in Haiti and a civil engineer at the University of Delft. They have joined forces to test Steijn’s idea and build the first rubble community in Port au Prince next year. …

“Unskilled people can build the homes with the blocks, which meet demanding Dutch construction standards to ensure they will last for many years. [Hennes de Ridder, an engineering professor at the University of Delft,] expects further stress tests he planned for Peru in a few months will show the homes can withstand temblors of at least 6 on the Richter scale.” Read more here.

Photo: The Mobile Factory
Model homes built from cement rubble are on display at an industrial park in Amsterdam. The brightly painted homes are designed for disaster zones, using technology that creates Lego-style building blocks from cement rubble.

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New online services make it easy to borrow things you need temporarily but don’t want to buy.

Janet Morrissey writes at the NY Times, “When vandals broke into Stephanie Ciancio’s Land Cruiser in 2014 and stole her car stereo, she did not have the time and money to replace it. It was particularly vexing for Ms. Ciancio, a 34-year-old San Francisco resident, because she had been planning to take a four-day road trip to Fern Canyon, Calif., over the long July 4 weekend, and the idea of making the eight-hour drive without music was depressing.

“So she logged onto Peerby.com, typed in her predicament, and within 40 minutes was connected with someone willing to lend her a Beats wireless Bluetooth speaker for her car trip.” She was thrilled.

Peerby founder Daan Weddepohl, Morrissey contintues, “was born in Rotterdam in 1980 and developed a passion for computers and programming at a young age. ‘I asked for a compiler for my 13th birthday,’ he said.

“He pored over books and joined online bulletin boards to hone his programming skills. His parents, both psychiatrists, encouraged his entrepreneurial spirit and interest in technology. But it was a fire that ignited the Peerby dream.

“In February 2009, fire ripped through Mr. Weddepohl’s apartment building, … Most of Mr. Weddepohl’s belongings were destroyed by fire, water or smoke.

“He was devastated. But in the months after, Mr. Weddepohl watched in amazement as friends — and even strangers — offered furniture, tools and other items to help him get back on his feet. It was a revelation. “’ discovered that the people around me were so much more important than the stuff,’ he said. ‘People love to help other people out — we’re wired to help others.’ ”

Read how the Peerby concept grew from the ashes, here.

I blogged earlier this year about this concept. You can read “Borrowing Gadgets you Need Only Once,” here.

Photo:Jason Henry for The New York Times
Stephanie Ciancio was able to borrow a wireless Bluetooth speaker from Matt Dodge through an online service called Peerby.com. 

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