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Physicists from Leiden help create world’s smallest Rembrandt

Museum De Lakenhal is displaying the smallest work of art in the world: a 3D-printed statue of Rembrandt van Rijn, made by sculptor Jeroen Spijker and researchers from Leiden University.

To celebrate Leiden European City of Science 2022, Jeroen Spijker has worked with physicists from Leiden University on a micro-statue of Rembrandt made from polymer with a layer of platinum. At just 28 micrometres tall, the statue, which was made with a 3D printer, is around a third of the thickness of a human hair. This makes it the smallest work of art in the world, says Jeroen Spijker.

Visitors will see for themselves how this is invisible to the naked eye. The statue will be in the same room as paintings by Rembrandt. There is also a short film about the process.

Art from the lab

Spijker worked together with Daniela Kraft and Rachel Doherty, researchers from the Faculty of Science at Leiden University. The work is based on a bronze sculpture of Rembrandt that Spijker had previously made. This was scanned and printed as small as possible with a 3D printer.

A special photo of the Rembrandt, which cannot be seen with the naked eye.

Jeroen Spijker: ‘I wanted to create a statue that I could still accept as a work of art with my own signature. Any smaller and there would have been too many distortions.’

This isn’t Leiden University’s first miniature work. In 2020 Kraft and Doherty’s research group used the same 3D printer to make the smallest boat in the world, which could even sail. At 30 micrometres, this was slightly larger than Rembrandt.

Not only are such tiny creations fun challenges but they also help scientific research. Kraft and Doherty are studying microswimmers: microscopic particles that can move in a fluid environment. They print these microswimmers themselves with a very accurate 3D printer. ‘The Rembrandt project is helping us discover the limits of our devices,’ says Doherty. ‘How small can we print something?’

On Rembrandt’s birthday on 15 July, Jeroen Spijker will be in the museum to answer visitors’ questions about the science behind the work. To celebrate this special day, Museum De Lakenhal will have free admission and special activities for families.

The statue will be on display in the museum until 31 July.

Main photo: Artist Jeroen Spijker looks at the printed statue of Rembrandt

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