The Night Watch

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The Night Watch
Dutch: De Nachtwacht
The Nightwatch by Rembrandt.jpg
ArtistRembrandt van Rijn
Year1642 (1642)
TypeOil on canvas
Dimensions363 cm × 437 cm (142.9 in × 172.0 in)
LocationRijksmuseum, Amsterdam
 
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The Night Watch
Dutch: De Nachtwacht
The Nightwatch by Rembrandt.jpg
ArtistRembrandt van Rijn
Year1642 (1642)
TypeOil on canvas
Dimensions363 cm × 437 cm (142.9 in × 172.0 in)
LocationRijksmuseum, Amsterdam

The Shooting Company of Frans Banning Cocq, commonly referred to as The Night Watch (Dutch: De Nachtwacht), is a 1642 painting by Rembrandt van Rijn.

The painting may be more properly titled by its long since forgotten name The Company of captain Frans Banning Cocq and lieutenant Willem van Ruytenburch preparing to march out. In the 18th century the painting became known as the Night Watch. It is prominently displayed in the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, the Netherlands, as the best known painting in its collection. The Night Watch is one of the most famous paintings in the world.

Key elements[edit]

The painting is renowned for three characteristics: its colossal size (363 cm × 437 cm (11.91 ft × 14.34 ft)), the effective use of light and shadow (chiaroscuro), and the perception of motion in what would have traditionally been a static military 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 Banning 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 gentlemen in the centre (from whom the painting gets its original title), and the small girl in the centre left background. Behind them, the company's colours are carried by the ensign, Jan Visscher Cornelissen.

Rembrandt has displayed the traditional emblem of the Arquebusiers in the painting in a natural way: the girl in yellow dress in the background is 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 stands for 'clover'; and, she is holding the militia's 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.

Another interpretation proposes that Rembrandt designed this painting with several layers of meaning, as was common among the most talented artists. Thus, the Night Watch is symmetrically divided, firstly to illustrate the union between the Dutch Protestants and the Dutch Catholics, and secondly to evoke the war effort against the Spaniards. For instance, accordingly to Rembrandt's multilayered design, the taller Captain (in black) symbolizes the Dutch Protestant leadership, loyally supported by the Dutch Catholics (represented by the shorter Lieutenant, in yellow). Moreover, all characters of this painting were conceived to present double readings.[1]

Alterations to original[edit]

17th century copy with indication of the areas cut down in 1715.

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. This varnish was removed only in the 1940s.

In 1715, upon its removal from the Kloveniersdoelen to the Amsterdam Town Hall, the painting was trimmed on all four sides. This was done, presumably, to fit the painting between two columns and was an all-too-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. This balustrade and step were key visual tools used by Rembrandt to give the painting a forward motion. A 17th-century copy of the painting by Gerrit Lundens at the National Gallery, London shows the original composition.[2]

Painting's commission[edit]

The painting is said to have been commissioned by the Captain and seventeen members of his Kloveniers (civic militia guards). Eighteen names appear on a shield, painted circa 1715, in the centre right background, as the hired drummer was added to the painting for free.[3] 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 Rembrandt's 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 at the time from her exile from France by her son Louis XIII her arrival was met with great pageantry.

Location[edit]

The Night Watch first hung in the Groote Zaal (Great Hall) or Amsterdam's Kloveniersdoelen. This structure currently houses the Doelen Hotel. In 1715, the painting was moved to the Amsterdam Town Hall, for which it was altered. 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 went to the Trippenhuis, which now housed the Dutch Academy of Sciences. It moved to the new Rijksmuseum when its building was finished in 1885.

The Night Watch rolled around a cylinder inside a crate. The canvas would be stored in this condition throughout the long war years.

The painting was removed from the museum 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 in Radboud Castle in Medemblik, north of Amsterdam.[4] After the end of the war, the canvas was re-mounted, restored, and returned to its rightful place in the Rijksmuseum.

On December 11, 2003, The Night Watch started its move 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).

Popular reception[edit]

A persistent misconception is that Rembrandt's decline in popularity was due to a negative public reception of the painting. The myth has even made its way into modern advertising; in 1967, KLM featured the painting in an advertisement which said, "See Night Watch, Rembrandt's spectacular 'failure' (that caused him to be) hooted... down the road to bankruptcy." The myth has no reasonable origin as there is no record of criticism of the painting in Rembrandt's lifetime, and Captain Cocq even commissioned a watercolor of it for his personal album.

It is more likely that the decline in the artist's popularity was due not to reaction to any one painting but to a broader change in taste. During the 1640s wealthy patrons began to prefer the bright colors and graceful manner that had been initiated by such painters as the Flemish portraitist Anthony van Dyck.

Acts of vandalism[edit]

Newsreel of the restoration in 1975

On January 13, 1911, a man slashed the painting with a shoemaker's knife.

The work was attacked with a bread knife by an unemployed school teacher on September 14, 1975, resulting in several large zig-zagged slashes. It was successfully restored after four years, but some evidence of the damage is still visible up close. The man was never charged and committed suicide in a mental institution in April 1976.

On April 6, 1990, a man sprayed acid onto the painting with a concealed pump bottle. Security guards intervened and water was quickly sprayed onto the canvas. The acid had only penetrated the varnish layer of the painting and it was fully restored.[5]

Cultural legacy[edit]

New LED illumination[edit]

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 painting's complex color palette. The lighting was developed by Philips Lighting and was inaugurated by Rijksmuseum Director Wim Pijbes and Philips President and CEO Frans van Houten. Rogier van der Heide, Chief Design Officer at Philips Lighting, was responsible for creating the system.[6]

The new illumination uses LED lights with a color temperature of 3,200 kelvins, 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 due to the absence of UV radiation and heat.

Other representations[edit]

The sculptures of the Night Watch in 3D at the Rembrandtplein in Amsterdam in 2006-2009

References[edit]

  1. ^ Oliveira, Paulo Martins The Dutch Company (online paper: vecchiaforma.com - doc.E22). 2013. Retrieved 2013-08-01.
  2. ^ "The Company of Captain Banning Cocq ('The Nightwatch')". Nationalgallery.org.uk. Retrieved 2013-02-19. 
  3. ^ "Rembrandt's Night Watch Unravelled: Identity of All the Militiamen Are Finally Revealed". ArtDaily. 14 March 2009. Retrieved 2013-02-19. 
  4. ^ Nicholas, Lynn H. (May 1995) [1994]. The Rape of Europa: The Fate of Europe's Treasures in the Third Reich and the Second World War. New York City: Vintage Books. ISBN 978-0-679-40069-1. OCLC 32531154. 
  5. ^ "Rembrandt's 'Night Watch' Painting Vandalized". Los Angeles Times (LATimes.com). Associated Press. 6 April 1990. Retrieved 2013-02-19. 
  6. ^ "Philips sheds new light on Night Watch" (Press release). Philips. 26 October 2011. Retrieved 2013-02-19. 
  7. ^ "About NW3D". Niveau. nightwatch3d.com. Spring 2004. Retrieved 2013-02-19. 
  8. ^ "Onze helden zijn terug!". Rijksmuseum. youtube.com. 1 Apr 2013. Retrieved 2013-04-07. 

External links[edit]