Canon Captures 4.2-Gigapixel Photo of Priceless Japanese Artwork

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The Tsuzuri Project

The Japanese Cultural Heritage Inheritance Project partnered with Canon to make a visually identical copy of an ancient and priceless piece of Japanese art by combining a 4.2-gigapixel photo with the skills of artisans who practice ancient techniques.

The Tsuzuri Project

The Japanese Cultural Heritage Inheritance Project, also known as the Tsuzuri Project, is a joint effort by Canon and the Kyoto Culture Association (NPO) which came together to create and donate a high-resolution facsimile of “The Wind and Thunder Gods” by Tawaraya Sotatsu. Originally created in the Japanese Edo period (the 18th century), the art piece is considered a definitive work of Japanese culture as the crowning achievement of the artist and is currently housed at the Kyoto National Museum.

“Through the efforts of the Tsuzuri Project, original works can be preserved in more ideal environments while their high-resolution facsimiles can be widely used for public display, allowing more people the opportunity to experience the works in person,” Canon says.

The first reproduction of the work, produced during Stage 4 of the Tsuzuri Project, was created in 2011 and has been on display in the Kenniji Temple since. Now in Stage 14, the Tsuzuri Project is taking advantage of advancements in imaging technology to create an even higher resolution facsimile of the work that is even more accurate than the original.

To do so, the original work was first photographed with a Canon EOS R5 in stages and then combined to create a finished file that was about 4.2-gigapixels in size.

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With the Goal to Closely Recreate the Original

This is very large but is far from the highest resolution photo of art that has been made. That was recently achieved by the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam which published an interactive photo of Rembrandt’s Night Watch earlier this month to the tune of 717-gigapixels. Where The Tsuzuri Project differs is in its goal to create a replica of the original work that would be hard to distinguish from the original, and the attention paid to both the original photo scan recreating the overlaid gold leaf is unique to this project. The goals of each project are also quite different.

The Tsuzuri Project

In this case, after the high-resolution image was captured, it was printed on a Canon 12-ink printer onto silk paper, which is normally a problematic process. In order to replicate the actual look of the painting, artisans — authentic Nishijin craftsmen, or “leaf” artists — carefully properly sized and applied gold leaf to the print and shaped it to reflect the original. Finally, the artwork was mounted by a separate set of master craftsmen on an authentic Japanese sliding door.

The paired screens of “The Wind and Thunder Gods” recreate the tonal variations, brushstrokes, and texture of the original cultural assets as faithfully as possible. Canon’s state-of-the-art technologies, such as image capture technologies applied to create 4.2 billion pixels of super-high resolution data, image processing technology, and printing technology and traditional Japanese artisans’ skills were combined to create unprecedented high-resolution facsimiles.

Canon says that thanks to its technical expertise in imaging, processing, and output with the master craftsmanship of traditional Kyoto artisans, the original work has been recreated down to the finest details, including dark clouds of ink against a background of gold paper, the fine grains of the pigment, and delicate brushstrokes.

“Thanks to improved accuracy of the project’s independently developed color-matching system, high-precision color matching can be completed in a short time, helping to reduce wear on the original work and making possible the production of more faithful high-resolution facsimiles,” the company says.

The high-resolution copy was donated to the Kenniji Temple and is available for public viewing, which helps continue to spread education into Japan’s art history without putting the original piece of art in danger, an inhernant risk that comes with displaying artwork in public.


Image credits: Photos provided courtesy of Canon. Header image, “The Wind and Thunder Gods” photo by the Tsuzuri Project. Original artwork by Tawaraya Sotatsu.

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