Microscope manufacturer Hirox has created a panorama of Vermeer’s famous Girl with a Pearl Earring at a mind-goggling 10-gigapixel resolution, as spotted by Petapixel. Over 9,100 photos were captured by the company’s Hirox 3D microscope down to a detail of four microns, revealing every crack and drop of paint with unprecedented detail. The group also created a 3D map of the canvas, revealing what looks like the surface of a strange planet.
The painting is one of the most famous in the world, in part because of Vermeer’s uncanny ability to capture light, and hangs in the Mauritshuis museum in The Hauge. Curators launched the project as part of Girl in the Spotlight, an in depth scientific examination of its most famous painting. The microscope panorama was undertaken by Hirox’s Emilien Leonhardt and Vincent Sabatier to evaluate the surface of key regions and analyze previous restorations.
The microscope was programmed to automatically focus on the painting and capture the images, then stitch everything together. Certain regions of the painting were captured in even higher detail using the 3D capabilities of the microscope. For those, each pixel was equivalent to 1.1 microns, with multiple images of each region captured to create a topography map, allowing experts to see the differences in paint height and other details.
“The Hirox software is automatically moving the lens up and down with very high precision, capturing a series of images at different focus [points] and combining them in one fully-focused image,” said Leonhardt. “The motorized X/Y stage is then moving to the next position, creating a high-resolution panorama.”
In one area of the left eye, you can zoom in to see the pupil and then zoom in much further to see the light source reflected in that pupil as a couple of blobs of paint. Another section shows two small dots of paint Vermeer added to give texture to the garment.
By switching to 3D mode, that same blob of paint on the pupil can be seen from edge-on, revealing topographic detail in the paint and cracks. You can also explore other regions including the subject’s mouth, garment and, yes, those famous earrings. This kind of detail is incredibly valuable for curators, as they can track wear on the painting and explore past restorations. Hirox has created a special site for the scan, and you can zoom in and check it out in 3D right here.