How do people distribute their attention while observing The Night Watch?

Joost C.F. de Winter*, Dimitra Dodou, Wilbert Tabone

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)
668 Downloads (Pure)


This study explored how people look at The Night Watch (1642), Rembrandt's masterpiece. Twenty-one participants each stood in front of the painting for 5 min, while their eyes were recorded with a mobile eye-tracker and their thoughts were verbalized with a think-aloud method. We computed a heatmap of the participants’ attentional distribution using a novel markerless mapping method. The results showed that the participants’ attention was mainly directed at the faces of the two central figures, the bright mascot girl in the painting, and detailed elements such as the apparel of the key figures. The eye-movement analysis and think-aloud data also showed that participants’ attention shifted from the faces of the key figures to other elements of the scene over the course of the 5 min. Our analyses are consistent with the theory that Rembrandt used light and texture to capture the viewer's attention. Finally, the robustness of the eye-tracking method was demonstrated by replicating the study on a smaller replica.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)763-788
Issue number11
Publication statusPublished - 2022


  • eye-tracking
  • painting
  • Rembrandt
  • salience
  • texture


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