Frans van Houten, CEO of Philips (left), and Wim Pijbes, general director of the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam (right), at the unveiling ceremony for the relighting of the Night Watch.
Philips Frans van Houten, CEO of Philips (left), and Wim Pijbes, general director of the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam (right), at the unveiling ceremony for the relighting of the Night Watch.

How do you light a masterpiece? That has been the Rijksmuseum's dilemma ever since the Amsterdam museum opened in 1885 and has housed the signature painting of its collection, Rembrandt's Night Watch.

The painting, originally completed in 1642 during what has come to be known as the Dutch Golden Age, depicts Captain Frans Banning Cocq and Lieutenant Willem van Ruytenburch moving their company out. Artistically, the painting is known for its large scale (the canvas measures 11 feet, 10 inches tall by 14 feet, 4 inches wide), its dynamic use of light and shadow (chiaroscuro), and its fluid sense of motion in what typically would have been a static military portrait.

But the pundits' critique of the poor lighting conditions that were used to showcase this masterwork never let up, and in 1901, the Dutch government appointed an advisory committee of art historians and painters to make recommendations to address the lighting. They decided that the painting should be moved to the museum's new extension and lit by indirect sunlight.

“The Holy Grail”—of Lighting: VIDEO LINK

Watch Philips Lighting's chief design officer Rogier van der Heide, during his presentation at TEDxAmsterdam 2011, discuss how innovations in LED technology were applied to the development of a new luminaire for theatrical applications, capable of projecting a mask. This luminaire has been used to re-light Rembrandt's Night Watch at the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, and the fixture highlights the complex brown and green pigments that the master painter is known for.

Still, the museum's critics remained unsatisfied. In 1926, the Night Watch was returned to its previous gallery location and hung on a side wall for close to 60 years, lit with incandescent light. Then, in 1984, the painting was moved back to its original location at the far end of the Gallery of Honor where it remained until 2003. At this point, it was moved, yet again, to the Philips Wing, as the museum embarked on a massive renovation. During all of this time, the lighting (most recently using halogen spotlights) never sufficiently rendered the painting's complex palette of pigments, especially browns and greens, in the rich splendor they deserved.

Since 2003, Philips has served as the museum's partner in its move toward energy efficiency, which includes the development of solid-state lighting strategies. The highlight of this collaboration occurred in October when an all-LED lighting solution was unveiled for the Night Watch. Now, for the first time, museum visitors can experience the nuanced detail of the scene and the complexity behind Rembrandt's brush strokes. And museum officials know that both conservation and energy efficiency are being met.