Where? The Nachtwachtzaal in the Eregallerij on the second floor of the Rijksmuseum
Commissioned by? The Guild of the Sharp Shooters under the command of Captain Frans Banning Cocq
What do you see? The Amsterdam Guild of the Sharp Shooters which consists of eighteen people. The painting is full of action and movement. In the center, you can see Captain Frans Banning Cocq (the man with the black hat) and his lieutenant Ruytenburch (dressed in white) stepping into the light. The captain is dressed in an elegant black outfit with a red sash. He holds a cane and a glove in his right hand and stretches his left arm forward to indicate that the guild members should start marching. The lieutenant indicates with the lance in his left hand the direction in which they should march. On the right, the drummer confirms that the guild should start marching by hitting the drum. The other men are grabbing their weapons, which include muskets, lances, and pikes. Behind the young girl to the left of the captain is the flag carrier. On the complete left of the painting is the sergeant who is carrying a, so-called, halberd. The man in red is filling his musket with gunpowder. In between the captain and the lieutenant is a man firing his weapon (you can just see the smoke to the left of the hat of the lieutenant). In addition to the members of the guild, some other figures are included. For example, on the right of the painting is a somewhat unfinished dog barking and on the left of the captain are a young boy and a girl running excitedly. The young girl has a dead chicken hanging from her belt (which probably symbolically refers to the emblem of the guild). On the middle top, a shield is included with the names of all the members of the guild.
Backstory: This painting is more formally known as The Shooting Company of Frans Banning Cocq and Willem van Ruytenburch or Militia Company of District II under the Command of Captain Frans Banning Cocq. The city of Amsterdam owns it and the current value is estimated to be over $500 million. Over the years, the paint in this work became darker, and that is the reason that in the 18th century the painting was called The Night Watch. However, there is no clear evidence that this scene is set in the night. This is the largest painting by Rembrandt. It cost the guild at least 1600 guilders and each member contributed their share of money to pay Rembrandt. Not all members of the guild were happy with the final painting. The captain and his lieutenant were obviously happy with their prominent position, but the other members were not as happy as they were shown in the dark. In 1715, the painting was moved from its original location, and pieces from each side of the painting were cut off, whereby the painting lost about 20% of its original size. A copy of the Night Watch by Gerrit Lundens provides an indication of the missing pieces.
Who is Banning Cocq? Frans Banning Cocq (1605-1655) is best known as the Captain of the Guild of the Sharpshooters. This guild protected the city against attacks and uninvited guests. However, Banning Cocq was also the Lord of Castle Ilpenstein and became the mayor of Amsterdam in 1650 (just like his father-in-law had been before).
Who is Rembrandt? Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn was born in Leiden in The Netherlands in 1606 and died in 1669 in Amsterdam. He was a very talented drawer, etcher, and painter. His talent for incorporating light and shadow allowed him to drag the viewer into his often dramatic paintings. In his personal life, Rembrandt suffered a lot of setbacks. For example, around the time that this painting was finished, the wife of Rembrandt died. However, this did not affect his productivity as in the following years he seemed more productive than ever. He also lost three children shortly after birth. Rembrandt was able to create a wide range of different paintings, including genre paintings, biblical paintings, mythological paintings, landscapes, and even animal paintings. Some other well-known works by Rembrandt include Saul and David and The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp, which are both in the Mauritshuis in The Hague.
Fun fact: The painting has been damaged on several occasions over time. In 1913, a man attacked the painting with a knife. In 1945, the director of the Rijksmuseum fell on top of the painting, though this did not damage the painting. The most significant damage was caused in 1975 when a man hit the painting twelve times with a knife. The damage can be seen in the picture below. In 1990, a man sprayed acid on the painting, but the damage could be limited by an alert security guard who immediately applied demineralized water to the painting.
Interested in a copy for yourself? Poster or canvas (Amazon links)
CC BY-SA 3.0 NL Nationaal Archief
Written by Eelco Kappe