Series: The Greatest Paintings of the World
By Kinjal Trivedi
The Night Watch by Rembrandt van Rijn
Artist: Rembrandt van Rijn
Medium: Oil on Canvas
Dimensions: 363 cm × 437 cm (142.9 in × 172.0 in
Location: Rijks Museum, Amsterdam
The Night Watch is the showstopper and the most prestigious painting of the Rijks Museum in Amsterdam.
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 (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 company’s colors are carried by the ensign, Jan Visscher Cornelissen. The figures are almost life-size.
The painting was commissioned around 1639 by Captain Banning Cocq and seventeen members of his Kloveniers.
A total of 34 characters appear in the painting. Rembrandt was paid 1,600 gold pennies for the painting (each person paid one hundred), a large sum at the time.
The painting was commissioned to hang in the banquet hall of the newly built Kloveniersdoelen, 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.
Although Rembrandts house was much smaller than the size of this painting. Many wonder where he actually painted this marvel.
In order to save the painting from the damages of World War II, the painting was removed from the Rijksmuseum in September 1939. 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.
In July 2019 a long and complex restoration began. 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. Each layer of pigment and strokes were captured and viewed with X Ray lights. This meticulous study was done in full public view and live streamed online.
This, for me as an art history lover, was extremely exciting to witness.
History still in making.