Share

Re-Creating 400-Year-Old Light with Photoshop

By Terri Stone

You could call Adobe crazy for asking digital artist Jean-Charles Debroize to re-create Caravaggio's 1602 painting Saint Matthew and the Angel, but we were only repeating history. The painting had already been redone — by Caravaggio himself. The Italian painter had a highly realistic style, and his first attempt at the saint and seraph was rejected by his patrons as too radically naturalistic. What would he have thought of Adobe’s request that Debroize copy Caravaggio using only Adobe Stock assets and Adobe Photoshop CC?

Caravaggio completed the second Saint Matthew and the Angel in 1602. It hung in Rome’s Church of San Luigi dei Francesi for many years and was later acquired by a German museum. The painting was destroyed by bombs during World War II. Because Caravaggio was an important influence on European painters, Saint Matthew and the Angel was a natural choice for Adobe’s “Make a Masterpiece” campaign, in which we identify lost artwork and commission modern artists to bring the paintings back to life.

As Debroize worked on the re-creation, he paid careful attention to Caravaggio’s use of chiaroscuro. “In this painting,” Debroize says, “the light is the main character. Caravaggio is one of the most famous painters using the chiaroscuro style. To be faithful to the painter, I tried to always keep in mind the light direction and strength. It's a thing you always have to do in a retouching work, but for this one, I was particularly vigilant.” Debroize used Photoshop’s brush tool, set soft and at low opacity, to create new highlights and shadows, selecting the Overlay blending mode for the light and the Multiply blending mode for the shadows.

A close-up of the re-creation illustrates the dramatic shadows.

FOCUSING ON FACES

Debroize says that the faces were the most difficult part of the job. “I didn't want to manipulate the source photos too much because when you deform a face, you notice it very quickly,” he says. “You can't cheat too much with people's expression. So I spent a long time in Adobe Stock researching. Finally, I used only two photos for each face. They are not the perfect twins of the original painting, but they are close and they look natural.”

He found one photo with approximately the same skull structure and hair as Saint Matthew. Another photo had a similar expression and angle. “I cut a mask of that face and stuck it to the head of the other one, like in The Silence of the Lambs.”  

Because the two head photos weren’t shot in the same lighting conditions, Debroize faked it, adding shadows with a brush set to Multiply blending mode. One tip from Debroize: “To make it look natural, it's important to choose a shadow color that fits with other colors in the piece.”

Next, he opened the eyes a bit wider with Photoshop’s Liquify filter and subtly manipulated the face with the Puppet Warp tool. He also duplicated some forehead wrinkles. He gave the saint a new do by erasing some hair with the Clone Stamp tool and adding individual strands in other places with a very thin brush tool. Debroize made the different layers look more uniform by smoothing them with a simple brush painting and the Clone Stamp. “It's like a make-up layer for hiding sutures,” he notes. He finished off the saint’s face by adding more shadows and highlights that more closely resembled the original painting.

The angel’s head was a bit easier. “I found a girl in a good position and a good expression, so I didn’t need a complex manipulation,” he explains. “I just changed a little the size of her eyes and nose to make her look a little older. I amplified the jawbone to make her a little more androgynous and I added a curly blond hairstyle like in the painting.” 

But whatever time he saved on the angel’s head, he more than spent on the wings. They required three photos: a goose wing for the bony structure, and two feather pictures. “I re-created them feather by feather. I deformed a lot the feathers to avoid a visible repetition of the same pictures, and I shadowed them one by one to get some volume in the whole ensemble.”

From the faces, Debroize moved on to the bodies. “I collected a lot of possible source photos and then tried different combinations. It was like playing puzzles with a million pieces. In the end, I used 45 different pictures to re-make the whole painting, but I tried hundreds of photos.” His final file had about 600 layers, and he spent about three weeks on the image, taking breaks here and there to get some distance from the job.

Click to watch a time-lapse of Jean-Charles Debroize building the Photoshop file.

LEARN MORE

Debroize was one of four artists we challenged to re-create lost paintings. Visit the Make a Masterpiece website to learn more about this piece and three other artworks.