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The Night Watch by Rembrandt

Updated on April 18, 2015

Rembrandt's The Night Watch

Rembrandt’s Night Watch is one of the world’s most famous paintings, and is the centrepiece of the now refurbished and reopened Rijksmuseum of Amsterdam.

The Night Watch by Rembrandt

Rembrandt (1606–1669) The Company of Frans Banning Cocq and Willem van Ruytenburch, known as the ‘Night Watch’ PD-art-100
Rembrandt (1606–1669) The Company of Frans Banning Cocq and Willem van Ruytenburch, known as the ‘Night Watch’ PD-art-100 | Source

The Night Watch - What's in a Name?

In the period when Rembrandt was painting it was not common practice to give paintings names, and although now globally known as “The Night Watch”, that moniker is misleading. The painting is not a night scene; the historical darkness associated with the painting coming about because of layers of varnish. Nor is it a painting of a “Watch”, the civic guards of Rembrandt’s day was a social group rather than a police or militia force.

Perhaps a more accurate name for the Night Watch could come from one of its other names; titles that include The Company of Captain Frans Banninck Cocq and Lieutenant Willem van Ruytenburch preparing to march out, or Militia Company of District II under the Command of Captain Frans Banninck Cocq or The Shooting Company of Frans Banninck Cocq.

The Commissioning of The Night Watch

Rembrandt was commissioned to paint the oil on canvas work in 1642 by Captain Frans Banninck Cocq and members of the civic guard. Eighteen members of the civic guard paid Rembrandt 100 guilders each, with Captain Frans Banninck Cocq and Lieutenant Willem van Ruijtenburch probably paying more. This additional fee was right for their social position, and of course they are given prominence in the painting.

The names of the other civic guard members can be discovered by looking at the shield in the background of The Night Watch.

After receiving the finished painting, the civic guard would place The Night Watch in the banquet hall of the Kloveniersdoelen (Musketeers' Meeting Hall).

It is though not just the members of the civic guard who appear in The Night Watch, for amongst the other assembled figures is Rembrandt himself, and the painter also transposed the features of his wife onto that of a little girl

The Size of The Night Watch

There is something to be said about the dimensions of famous paintings. The Mona Lisa is well known for being a small painting, 77 cm × 53 cm (30 in × 21 in), but people don’t tend to realise just how small that makes the painting until they see it first hand.

Likewise, people are aware that The Night Watch is large, but few again will realise how large until they see it; and the actual dimensions of 363 cm × 437 cm (142.9 in × 172.0 in) are had to picture. The painting is so large that Rembrandt had to construct scaffolding at his home to house it.

In truth though, The Night Watch was once larger than it is today. In 1715 The Night Watch was re-housed in the Amsterdam Town Hall, and to make it fit, the painting was trimmed on all sides.

The Night Watch in the Rijksmuseum

Balou46 CC-BY-SA-3.0
Balou46 CC-BY-SA-3.0 | Source

The Night Watch by Rembrandt

Aside from its massive size, The Night Watch is also particularly known for the sense of movement that Rembrandt managed to imbue within it. The painting makes it seem perfectly possible for the civic guard to march forward, straight over the observer; this sense of movement is also helped with the depiction of a musket firing and the drummer boy drumming.

The removal of years of varnish has also established that the Dutch master used light and shadow, and surprising amount of colour when painting his complex masterpiece.

The Rijksmuseum Amsterdam

Beatriz Busaniche CC-BY-SA-3.0
Beatriz Busaniche CC-BY-SA-3.0 | Source

Viewing The Night Watch

The Night Watch can only really be appreciated in person though, and no photo really does it justice. The Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam is open daily from 09:00 through to 17:00, with adult tickets, as of 2015, costing EUR17.50.


Submit a Comment

  • Colin Quartermain profile imageAUTHOR

    Colin Quartermain 

    3 years ago

    Ron many thanks for commenting. I am serious tempted to visit again this year, luckily for me its only an hour flight.

  • Colin Quartermain profile imageAUTHOR

    Colin Quartermain 

    3 years ago

    Thanks Lions for reading and commenting, certainly one of my favourite painters as well. Colin

  • RonElFran profile image

    Ronald E Franklin 

    3 years ago from Mechanicsburg, PA

    You make me regret what I missed on my one visit to Amsterdam many years ago. I never got to the Rijksmuseum, and of course never saw this painting. I know I would have loved seeing such a huge and vivid canvas. Well, if I ever get back to Amsterdam, I won't miss it again.

  • lions44 profile image

    CJ Kelly 

    3 years ago from Auburn, WA

    Great article. One of my favorite artists and paintings. Thx so much. Voted up and shared.

  • Colin Quartermain profile imageAUTHOR

    Colin Quartermain 

    3 years ago

    Many thanks for reading and commenting - I saw the painting years ago and I have to say I can't remember anything else about the museum, only the Night Watch. Colin

  • profile image


    3 years ago

    You're right about seeing this painting in person. The scope of it is almost overwhelming. You presented some cool info that I didn't know about it... that it had been resized, for example. Neat hub.


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