15 questions with Francesca Gabrieli

Francesca is responsible for the Reflectance Imaging Spectroscopy (RIS) scanning of The Night Watch. It collects the light that’s reflected from the pigments and allows us to identify and map them onto the surface of the painting.

The experts behind Operation Night Watch are hard at work discovering everything they can about Rembrandt’s most famous painting and what applications there might be to our modern life. Meet Francesca Gabrieli, postdoc and Junior Scientist at the Rijksmuseum.


1. Describe yourself in three words.

Dedicated, friendly, organized

2. What’s your favorite color and why?

It’s definitely green because it makes me think about the color of nature in spring and summer when vegetation is coming to life again.

3. When you’re not working, how do you like to spend your time?

Hanging out with friends, visiting new places, cooking and exercising.

4. Tell us one thing you’re excited for in 2021.

If it will be possible, going back to see my colleagues and hanging out with them, and hugging my friends and family again.

5. What’s your most prized possession?

My family and friends.

6. What are your hidden talents?

I think I’m kind of good in drawing and cooking.

7. How would you describe Operation Night Watch in one word?


8. What’s your role on the Operation Night Watch team? 

I’m responsible for the Reflectance Imaging Spectroscopy (RIS) scanning of the Night Watch. The instruments (or cameras) collect the light that is reflected from the materials (mostly pigments) that are present on the painting and allow us to identify and map them the onto the surface of the painting. RIS was performed in February and then in May/June 2020.

9. How does Operation Night Watch compare to the “usual” work you do?

I normally do this same work, but in a laboratory, that’s located in the building in front of the Rijksmuseum, the Ateliergebouw. There is a big difference in set-up: usually the cameras are sitting on a table and stay still during acquisition, while the painting, secured on a mechanical easel, smoothly moves up/down and left/right to allow the scanning. For Operation Night Watch, the cameras move while the painting stays still.

10. What do you enjoy most about your job?

I enjoy the possibility of using state-of-the-art technology to reveal artists’ choices and techniques. This allows us to connect with the artists in a different way.

11. Which character, detail or aspect of The Night Watch interests you the most?

I really like the figure of Lieutenant Van Ruytenburch because of the presence of multiple pigments that Rembrandt chose to use with a very specific technique. I also very much like to look at the changes in composition that Rembrandt made (such as the height of hat or the position of a face).

12. In your opinion, what would Rembrandt think of Operation Night Watch? 

It would probably be unbelievable to him to see such a team and technologies dedicated to the study of his masterpiece. And, who knows, maybe he would be excited to help us answer all the questions we have!

13. If you were given a chance to time travel, when would you go and why?

Probably to 2121 to see what our technologies will look like, and what scientists will be able to discover with them!

14. What motivates you the most?

My passion for art and my desire for learning new things.

15. What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?

Never be afraid of saying your opinion and speak up for yourself.

How do you go about restoring one of the world’s most famous paintings?

We asked some of the experts involved in Operation Night Watch to explain what will happen now our historic partnership with the Rijksmuseum is underway.

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