Annette le Roux

Annette le Roux

Last updated on 12 August 2021

Annette le Roux is Collection Developer Archival Resources at the University of South Africa (UNISA). She attended IS&T Archiving 2021 with support from the DPC’s Career Development Fund, which is funded by DPC Supporters.

Annette le Roux is the Collection Developer Archival Resources at the Unisa Library, University of South Africa, with an International Masters in Digital Library Learning (DILL) obtained in 2009. She also completed the Society of American Archivists certificate: Digital Archival Specialist (DAS) in 2019 and the Novice to Know-How: Digital Preservation Skills for Beginners in January 2021.

It was such a privilege to attend the IS&T Archiving 2021 Online conference as a grant recipient of the DPC Career Development Fund. The reason for applying for this grant was worded in my application, mentioning:

The University of South Africa (Unisa), the largest open distance learning institution in Africa, hosts the Unisa Library Digital Collections, including the Unisa Library Archives Online. The urgent digitisation drive of the Unisa Library is closely linked to the following issues:

  • Most archival collections located in the Unisa Library are unique and irreplaceable.

  • Digitisation limits the physical handling of the original records.

  • Digitisation provides access to Unisa’s researchers, as well as to a broad, international user-base.

As the Collection Developer Archival Resources, I play a role in providing relevant information for digital archival policy development on request; developing and maintaining archival resources with regard to institutional memory, specific institutions’ archives (e.g. South African Museums Association Archives); identifying and evaluating new archival material for purchase and donations; selecting, in consultation with the Archives, primary sources for digitisation; setting technical specifications for digitising archival material; applying quality standards with regard to newly digitised items; and taking part in the selection of a digital preservation system for the digital material of the University.

It was not always easy to decide which sessions of the IS&T Archiving 2021 Online Conference to attend and more than once I wished it was possible to attend all sessions. One of the sessions that I did not want to miss was the Operation Night Watch: Imaging the Rembrandts' Masterpiece inside the Gallery of Honor of the Rijksmuseum by Dr Katrien Keune1, Head of Science at the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, the Netherlands.

Some facts regarding Operation Night Watch caught my attention. The Night Watch (1642), a painting by Rembrandt van Rijn (1606-1669) dating back to the Baroque era2, portrays the captain of an Amsterdam city militia urging his men into combat3.  This painting has been damaged three times in the last 120 years4.

Operation Night Watch started in 2019 and is described on the Rijksmuseum’s website as “the largest research and conservation project ever for Rembrandt’s masterpiece5.”  The aim of Operation Night Watch was to systematically and meticulously study the condition of this artwork and applied painting technique. From the research results decisions will be made regarding the best conservation treatment for this painting1.

The canvas of 3.78 m by 4.53 m in size, and weighing 337 kg, was housed in a specially designed glass chamber called the “Gallery of Honor” in the Rijksmuseum where visitors could view the research process. According to Dr Keune (2021), the non-invasive imaging technologies that have been applied during the research process include “macro X-Ray fluorescence, macro X-Ray powder diffraction, reflectance imaging spectroscopy, optical coherence tomography, high-resolution photography, and 3D scanning1.”

During the research process reflectance imaging spectroscopy (RIS) “was performed using two different hyperspectral line scanning imaging spectrometers (VNIR 400 to 1000 nm, 2.5 nm and SWIR 900 to 2500 nm, 6 nm) 6.” Dr Keune highlighted the fact that the large multi-disciplinary research team, including art historians and archivists, produced the most detailed photograph ever made of this artwork by combining 528 digital exposures at 20 micron1.”

Taylor Lyles (2020) remarks that the high-resolution scan of the Night Watch “lets you zoom in close enough to see all its small details: brushstrokes, small cracks around the eyes and noses, and even the facial expressions of every character7.”

Referring to the above-mentioned high-resolution scan of the Night Watch, Jon Porter (2021) adds that the in-depth research does not only shed new light on the painting, but also reconstructs the original painting by printing the lost edges after the Night Watch was unceremoniously cut down to fit into its new location, the Arquebusiers Guild Hall in Amsterdam’s city hall, just over 300 years ago. He also mentions that there are two new faces present on its left8 & 9.  By adding the missing pieces it shows the intention of Rembrandt with the original painting and adds to the dynamics and energy portrayed by him.

It is very interesting how all the modern technology and techniques, including AI, contributed to a very in-depth knowledge of this iconic painting. I believe this will play a significant role in conservation and preservation of artwork in the future.

For more about Operation Night Watch at the Rijksmuseum, please click here.


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