The Night Watch by Rembrandt
Episode #3 of the course “Most famous paintings of all time”
Type: oil on canvas
Dimensions: 363 cm × 437 cm (142.9 in × 172.0 in)
Location: Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam
A master of Baroque painting, Rembrandt van Rijn exemplified some of his best talents in his masterpiece The Company of captain Frans Banning Cocq and lieutenant Willem van Ruytenburch preparing to march out, which is more commonly known as The Night Watch. The massive canvas of over 14 feet wide was completed in 1642, but later additions and alterations were included in the 18th century. The painting was rolled for protection during World War II, and in the 1940s curators removed the dark varnish that had been covering it. It is thought that this dark varnish is what gave the painting its mistaken look as a night scene, from which it earned its nickname.
Baroque art is known for its creative use of light and shadow to give dimension to flat surfaces. His range of shades meant that Rembrandt could move the viewer’s eye around the painting through use of colors and blacks. The Night Watch demonstrates this technique by highlighting the most important figures of the scene—the two conversing soldiers in the foreground and the girl in the rear. Using the color red to draw the eye across the chaotic war scene, Rembrandt lays out a brilliant portrait of two military leaders, Captain Frans Banning Cocq and Lieutenant Willem van Ruytenburch.
The Night Watch is thought to either depict the contemporaneous tension between the Dutch and the Spanish or to represent the 17th-century social tensions between Catholics and Protestants. Critics agree that it is likely Rembrandt painted this work with multiple layers of symbolism so that it could be interpreted in a variety of ways. Although many place blame on this painting for being the beginning of the end of Rembrandt’s career, there are no critical reviews of the painting at the time of its release, though it was copied and updated with commissions.
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