15 questions with Victor Gonzalez

Victor is working on the X-ray analysis of inorganic pigments, trying to understand how these materials were prepared by Rembrandt, and how they evolved over time. He sometimes uses the synchrotrons around Europe as very powerful microscopes.

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 Victor Gonzalez, Junior Scientist at the Rijksmuseum.


1. What’s your name and job title?

Victor Gonzalez, Junior Scientist in the Science Department of the Rijksmuseum

2. What’s your favorite color and why?

Blue. It’s a cliche, but I think because of the ocean!

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

Spending times with friends. 

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

Obviously considering the previous question: VACCINES!!

5. What’s your most prized possession?

My coffee machine. It’s from an Italian brand of coffee machines, Bialetti, which produced this special model called “Brikka”.

6. What makes that coffee machine so special?

It has some kind of a magical valve that allows the pressure to build, and to obtain a kind of “real” espresso. The problem is they discontinued the production of this model and replaced it with one without the magical valve. So now I live everyday terrified that my coffee machine will break one day, and I will not be able to replace it. 

7. That’s horrible! But… how’s the coffee?

The coffee I drink is fantastic, so I guess there is a silver lining. I asked my colleague Francesca Gabrielli to find the old model when she goes home to Italy...

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


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

I’m working on the X-ray analysis of inorganic pigments, trying to understand how these materials were prepared by Rembrandt, and how they evolved over time. I sometimes visit synchrotron facilities, large particles accelerators all around Europe that I use as very powerful microscopes to probe the pictorial matter at the micro-scale.

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

The main difference with my “usual” work is the scope of the project. It’s the first time I am involved in such an ambitious venture, in which we collectively work as a team on a single artwork for so long. And also, the efforts we make to disseminate our results to the public. Working in front of the visitors was a unique experience!

11. What do you enjoy most about your job?

A lot of things! It’s a privilege to work on such incredible artworks daily, and to feel that ultimately the research you are doing is not just for you and your colleagues but for all of society. Also, I don’t have to put a tie when I leave for work in the morning.

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

I worked on Rembrandt’s “impasto” technique, this thick paint giving a tri-dimensional build-up to some part of the painting. So I am really interested in these beautiful white collars (like the one of Banning Cocq) and feathers (such as the one on the hat of van Ruytenburch).

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

Wow, this is actually a very deep question: what paintings mean to us today is so different than the significance they had for our ancestors... I think he would have trouble to understand at first – in the end, I am sure he would be flattered. But maybe also a bit mad at us for taking micro-samples? I can imagine him saying: “Wow! What are you doing with that scalpel?!”

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

I would love to witness the painting of caves in the late Paleolithic age. Although perhaps not knowing what these paintings mean is part of why they are so extraordinary and fill us with so much emotion?

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

Once, one of my high school teachers said to me: “Mr. Gonzalez, don’t be an idiot!” I think it is a pretty solid advice. 

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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