Private Life of a Masterpiece Episode 8: Rembrandt - The Night Watch

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Private Life of a Masterpiece Episode 8: Rembrandt van Rijn - The Night Watch (BBC Documentary)

The Night Watch or The Shooting Company of Frans Banning Cocq (Dutch: De Nachtwacht) is the common name of one of the most famous works by Dutch painter Rembrandt van Rijn.

The painting may be more properly titled The Company of captain Frans Banning Cocq and lieutenant Willem van Ruytenburch preparing to march out. 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.

The Night Watch by Rembrandt, c.1642 (or The M...
The Night Watch by Rembrandt, c.1642 (or The Militia Company of Captain Frans Banning Cocq). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
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.

On 13 January 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 14 September 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 6 April 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 fortunately only penetrated the varnish layer of the painting and it was fully restored.