ⓘ The Night Watch


ⓘ The Night Watch

Militia Company of District II under the Command of Captain Frans Banninck Cocq, also known as The Shooting Company of Frans Banning Cocq and Willem van Ruytenburch, but commonly referred to as The Night Watch, is a 1642 painting by Rembrandt van Rijn. It is in the collection of the Amsterdam Museum but is prominently displayed in the Rijksmuseum as the best-known painting in its collection. The Night Watch is one of the most famous Dutch Golden Age paintings.

The painting is famous for three things: its colossal size 363 cm × 437 cm 11.91 ft × 14.34 ft), the dramatic use of light and shadow tenebrism and the perception of motion in what would have traditionally been a static military group portrait. The painting was completed in 1642, at the peak of the Dutch Golden Age. It depicts the eponymous company moving out, led by Captain Frans Banninck Cocq dressed in black, with a red sash and his lieutenant, Willem van Ruytenburch dressed in yellow, with a white sash. With effective use of sunlight and shade, Rembrandt leads the eye to the three most important characters among the crowd: the two men in the center from whom the painting gets its original title, and the woman in the centre-left background carrying a chicken. Behind them, the companys colors are carried by the ensign, Jan Visscher Cornelissen. The figures are almost life-size.

Rembrandt has displayed the traditional emblem of the arquebusiers in a natural way, with the woman in the background carrying the main symbols. She is a kind of mascot herself; the claws of a dead chicken on her belt represent the clauweniers arquebusiers, the pistol behind the chicken represents clover and she is holding the militias goblet. The man in front of her is wearing a helmet with an oak leaf, a traditional motif of the arquebusiers. The dead chicken is also meant to represent a defeated adversary. The colour yellow is often associated with victory.


1.1. History Commission

The painting was commissioned around 1639 by Captain Banning Cocq and seventeen members of his Kloveniers civic militia guards. Eighteen names appear on a shield, painted circa 1715, in the center-right background, as the hired drummer was added to the painting for free. A total of 34 characters appear in the painting. Rembrandt was paid 1.600 guilders for the painting each person paid one hundred, a large sum at the time. This was one of a series of seven similar paintings of the militiamen Dutch: Schuttersstuk commissioned during that time from various artists.

The painting was commissioned to hang in the banquet hall of the newly built Kloveniersdoelen Musketeers Meeting Hall in Amsterdam. Some have suggested that the occasion for Rembrandts commission and the series of other commissions given to other artists was the visit of the French queen, Marie de Medici, in 1638. Even though she was escaping from her exile from France ordered by her son Louis XIII, the queens arrival was met with great pageantry.

There is some academic discussion as to where Rembrandt actually executed the painting. It is too large to have been completed in his studio in his house modern address Jodenbreestraat 4, 1011 NK Amsterdam. Scholars are divided. In city records of the period, he applied to build a "summer kitchen" on the back of his house. The dimensions of this structure would have accommodated the painting over the three years it took him to paint it. Another candidate is in an adjacent church and a third possibility is actually on site.


1.2. History Location and alterations

The Night Watch first hung in the Groote Zaal Great Hall or Amsterdams Kloveniersdoelen. This structure currently houses the Doelen Hotel. In 1715, the painting was moved to the Amsterdam Town Hall, for which it was trimmed on all four sides. This was done, presumably, to fit the painting between two columns and was a common practice before the 19th century. This alteration resulted in the loss of two characters on the left side of the painting, the top of the arch, the balustrade, and the edge of the step. A 17th-century copy of the painting by Gerrit Lundens 1622–1683 at the National Gallery, London, shows the original composition.

When Napoleon occupied the Netherlands, the Town Hall became the Palace on the Dam and the magistrates moved the painting to the Trippenhuis of the family Trip. Napoleon ordered it returned, but after the occupation ended in 1813, the painting again moved to the Trippenhuis, which now housed the Dutch Academy of Sciences. It remained there until it moved to the new Rijksmuseum when its building was finished in 1885.

The painting was removed from the Rijksmuseum in September 1939, at the onset of World War II. The canvas was detached from its frame and rolled around a cylinder. The rolled painting was stored for four years in a special safe that was built to protect many works of art in the caves of Maastricht, Netherlands. After the end of the war, the canvas was re-mounted, restored, and returned to the Rijksmuseum.

On 11 December 2003, The Night Watch was moved to a temporary location, due to a major refurbishment of the Rijksmuseum. The painting was detached from its frame, wrapped in stain-free paper, put into a wooden frame which was put into two sleeves, driven on a cart to its new destination, hoisted, and brought into its new home through a special slit.

While the refurbishment took place, The Night Watch could be viewed in its temporary location in the Philipsvleugel of the Rijksmuseum. When the refurbishment was finished in April 2013, the painting was returned to its original place in the Nachtwachtzaal Room of the Night Watch.


1.3. History Vandalism and restoration

For much of its existence, the painting was coated with a dark varnish, which gave the incorrect impression that it depicted a night scene, leading to the name by which it is now commonly known. On 13 January 1911, a jobless shoemaker and former Navy chef attempted to slash the painting with a shoemakers knife protesting his inability to find work. However, the thick coating of varnish protected the painting from any damage at that time. The varnish was removed only in the 1940s.

On 14 September 1975 the work was attacked with a bread knife by an unemployed school teacher, Wilhelmus de Rijk, resulting in several large zig-zagged slashes up to 30 cm long. With a history of mental illness he claimed he, "did it for the Lord" and that he, "was ordered to do it." The painting was successfully restored after four years, but some evidence of the damage is still visible up close. The man was never charged and he committed suicide in April 1976.

On 6 April 1990, an escaped psychiatric patient sprayed acid onto the painting with a concealed pump bottle. Security guards intervened stopping the man and quickly sprayed water onto the canvas. The acid had only penetrated the varnish layer of the painting and it was fully restored.

In July 2019 a long and complex restoration began. The restoration is taking place in public, in a specially-made glass enclosure built and placed in the Rijksmuseum, and is being livestreamed. The plan was to move the 337kg painting into it starting when the museum closed for the day on 9 July, then to map the painting "layer by layer and pigment by pigment", and plan conservation work according to what was found. As the painting has always been on display, even those who knew it best had much to learn. Taco Dibbits, the Rijksmuseums general director, said that despite working there for 17 years he had never seen the top of the painting; "We know so little on how he worked on making The Night Watch."


1.4. History New LED illumination

On 26 October 2011, the Rijksmuseum unveiled new, sustainable LED lighting for The Night Watch. With new technology, it is the first time LED lighting has been able to render the fine nuances of the paintings complex color palette.

The new illumination uses LED lights with a color temperature of 3.200 kelvin, similar to warm-white light sources like tungsten halogen. It has a color rendering index of over 90, which makes it suitable for the illumination of artifacts such as The Night Watch. Using the new LED lighting, the museum saves 80% on energy and offers the painting a safer environment because of the absence of UV radiation and heat.


2. Cultural legacy

  • The Night Watch is the subject of a 2007 film by director Peter Greenaway called Nightwatching, in which the film posits a conspiracy within the musketeer regiment of Frans Banning Cocq and Willem van Ruytenburch, and suggests that Rembrandt may have immortalized a conspiracy theory using subtle allegory in his group portrait of the regiment, subverting what was to have been a highly prestigious commission for both painter and subject. His 2008 film Rembrandts JAccuse is a sequel or follow-on, and covers the same idea, using extremely detailed analysis of the compositional elements in the painting; in this Greenaway describes The Night Watch as currently the fourth most famous painting in the Western world, after the Mona Lisa, the Last Supper and the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.
  • The Night Watch is parodied on the British cover of Terry Pratchetts 2002 book by the same name. The cover illustrator, Paul Kidby, pays tribute to his predecessor Josh Kirby by placing him in the picture, in the position where Rembrandt is said to have painted himself. A copy of the original painting appears on the back cover of the book.
  • In Jean-Luc Godards 1982 film, Passion, The Night Watch is reenacted with live actors in an opening shot. Godard explicitly compares his film to Rembrandts painting, describing them both as "full of holes and badly-filled spaces". He instructs the viewer not to focus on the overall composition, but to approach his film as one would a Rembrandt and "focus on the faces".
  • The painting appears in episode 3 of season 2 of Netflixs Sense8.
  • Maurice Merleau-Ponty refers to this work in his essay "Eye and Mind". He writes that "he spatiality of the captain lies at the meeting of two lines of sight that are incompossible with one another. Everyone with eyes has at some time or other witnessed this play of shadows, or something like it, and has been made by it to see a space and the things included therein."
  • Alexander Kordas 1936 biographical film Rembrandt depicts the painting, shown in error in its truncated form, as a failure at its completion, perceived as lampooning its outraged subjects.
  • The work has inspired musical works in both the classical and rock traditions, including the second movement of Gustav Mahlers 7th Symphony and Ayreons "The Shooting Company of Captain Frans B. Cocq" from Universal Migrator Part 1: The Dream Sequencer. In King Crimsons song "The Night Watch", from the bands 1974 album Starless and Bible Black, lyricist Richard Palmer-James muses on the painting to capture a key period in Dutch history, when, after a long period of "Spanish Wars", the merchants and other members of the bourgeoisie can turn their lives inward and focus on the tangible results of their lives’ efforts. The song adopts a number of perspectives, including the primary subjects, the artist himself, and a modern viewer of the painting, and paints a mini-portrait of the emergence of the modern upper-middle class and the consumerist culture. However, the song presents this portrait with a deft touch, and while not fully approving, is sympathetic in tone.
  • The Night Watch is a major plot device in the eponymous 1995 film, Night Watch, which focuses on the paintings theft.
  • In 2006. The Night Watch inspired the literary work A Ronda da Noite by the famous Portuguese writer Agustina Bessa Luis.

2.1. Cultural legacy Other representations

  • Russian artist Alexander Taratynov created a bronze-cast representation of the famous painting that was displayed in Amsterdams Rembrandtplein from 2006 through 2009. After displays in other locations, the sculptures returned in 2012 and are now permanently installed in front of Louis Royers 1852 cast iron statue of Rembrandt.
  • The Night Watch is also replicated in Delft blue at Royal Delft in the Netherlands. This version consists of 480 tiles. Two painters of the manufacture worked simultaneously from the left and right end of the frame, and they met at the center to complete the grand piece. After finishing, both painters recognized that they had a more difficult job as they only used black, to paint The Night Watch. They used the traditional cobalt oxide color adding water to make the lighter shades. Once it was fired at 1200 degrees Celsius, the black material turns into blue. It seems that this version of The Night Watch, was bought by an unknown buyer and then given to the museum on loan to display to the public.
  • The Rijksmuseums flashmob Our Heroes are Back recreated The Night Watch in an unsuspecting shopping mall in Breda, Netherlands – published on 1 April 2013 on YouTube
  • The only full-sized replica in the Western world is displayed by the Canajoharie Library & Art Gallery, in Canajoharie, New York, donated to the library in the early 20th century by the librarys founder, Bartlett Arkell.

  • Night Watch may refer to: The Night Watch De Nachtwacht a 1642 painting by Rembrandt van Rijn The Roman division of the night into four vigiliae, or
  • Night Watch Russian: Ночной Дозор is the first fantasy novel by the Russian author Sergei Lukyanenko to feature his fictional world of the Others.
  • or more of the following works: Novels: Night Watch Day Watch Dusk Watch aka Twilight Watch Final Watch aka Last Watch New Watch Sixth Watch Stories: Face
  • the novel The Night Watch by Sergei Lukyanenko, and is followed by a sequel, Day Watch It was Russia s submission to the 77th Academy Awards for the
  • Night Watch is a fantasy novel by British writer Terry Pratchett, the 29th book in his Discworld series, published in 2002. The protagonist of the novel
  • Night Watch Icelandic: Medan nottin lidur is a 1992 novel by Icelandic author Frida A. Sigurdardottir. It won the Nordic Council s Literature Prize
  • Watch Russian: Последний Дозор also known as Final Watch is a fantasy novel by Russian writer Sergey Lukyanenko. It is the sequel to Night Watch
  • Night Watch Russian: Ночной дозор is a tactical role - playing game developed by Russian developer Nival Interactive, and based on the Russian novel
  • by Night Watch and followed by Twilight Watch Last Watch New Watch and Sixth Watch Day Watch also stands out of the saga as the only novel in the series