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Rembrandt - The Night Watch

von Alexandra Tuschka

"The Night Watch" is a painting that has often been misunderstood. In the 18th century, the painting was given this title - but the darkness is due to the after-darkening of the varnish layers. Originally, the scene showed a bright day and Frans Banning Cocq giving his lieutenant the order to march off the citizens' company. These two stride out of the picture in the foreground.

Rembrandt did not show the group as an elegant unit, as the patron demanded, but as a disorderly bunch. The Rifle Guild was the commissioner of the work, a formation of the citizen militia of Amsterdam. In many cases, they are clumsy in their handling of the weapon; a typical characteristic of volunteer vigilantes. The individuals are positioned as they contributed to the expenses of the commission. Therefore, some are overlapped or barely visible, while others, like the two protagonists in the center of the picture, have also been highlighted by the lighting. And isn't it even the painter's eye that looks cheekily at us from the background of the picture?

Of course, part of the formal language is borrowed from the usual representation portraits, but Rembrandt still creates a moving history picture. He also integrated a girl who was not part of the commission and also highlighted her through the lighting. This is usually evaluated as allegory.

Rembrandt - The Night Watch

Oil on canvas, 1642, 363 x 437 cm, Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam


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