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The Night Watch Painting

The 400-year-old Night Watch Painting lightens up the dimly lit galleries of the Rijksmuseum, attracting over 2 million visitors every year!

Rembrandt Van Rjin’s Night Watch is a visual depiction of the art from the Golden Dutch Age and is an action-packed painting of the civil guard.

Visitors planning to explore the Museum must stop by to observe this masterpiece, with its brilliant composition and masterful use of lighting and shadows.

Read further to discover the complete history of Rembrandt’s Night Watch Painting with cheap Rijksmuseum tickets to see this vintage masterpiece!

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Who painted the Night Watch?

The Night Watch, by Dutch painter Rembrandt Van Rijn, is the most famous painting in the Rijksmuseum. 

Rembrandt gained popularity for his historical, biblical, and portrait paintings in Amsterdam. 

His light and shadow techniques gave his paintings a life-like appearance, which made him famous.

His paintings captured the attention of all, as they showcased human society, with all its flaws and imperfections. 

Rembrandt’s art influenced people all over the world for centuries!

You will learn more about his famous Night Watch painting and what makes it so special in the article!

Description of the Rembrandt Night Watch Painting

Rembrandt painted the Night Watch in 1642, and it took a little more than a year to complete.

It showcases a group of Kloveniers military men walking together toward a ceremonial procession. 

The Kloveniers were a group of Military guardsmen who wanted the Night Watch to show the dignity and pride they felt doing their jobs. 

In the Night Watch painting, you will see Captain Banninck Cocq standing at the center of the crowd.

Right beside him is his trusted Lieutenant Willem van Ryutenburg, with sixteen other Kloveniers members around them.

The painting captures them in movement with their glistening weapons! 

If you look closely, Rembrandt uses light to focus on a girl in the background and the Captain’s hand to show him giving orders to his guards.

You might wonder why a young girl is highlighted between a group of army men going to patrol the city.

The young girl is a part of the public that the Kloveniersdoelen army protects.

The upside-down bird in her hand showcases the group’s symbol, which is a claw on a blue background.

Some people also considered the girl to be the Kloveniersdoelen Company mascot!

Rijksmuseum tickets to see the Night Watch Painting

You must have a ticket to enter the Rijksmuseum and see the famous Night Watch painting in the Night Watch Gallery. 

Tickets are only available online and cannot be bought from the Rijksmuseum’s entrance. 

The standard Rijksmuseum ticket costs €24 for visitors above 19 years of age and grants access to all the permanent exhibitions, including Rembrandt’s Night Watch.

Children 18 years and younger can enjoy entry to the Rijksmuseum for free!
History buffs and art lovers can also enjoy a Rijksmuseum guided tour, which takes them through a historical storytelling experience by a professional guide for €45.

The Night Watch Painting: History

Captain Banninck Cocq and members of the Kloveniersdoelen group commissioned the Night Watch painting in 1639.

Rembrandt completed this massive masterpiece in the year 1642.

It has 34 characters in total, but there are no existing records of how long Rembrandt took to complete the painting.

Experts believe he took around more than a year.

Before displaying it at the Rijksmuseum, the Night Watch traveled from Amsterdam’s Town Hall to the National Gallery in London.

Why was the painting known as the Night Watch?

If you see a picture of the Night Watch painting, could you ever guess that the painting shows a daytime scene?

This fact surprises most people, but the Night Watch is not the original name given to the painting.

Rembrandt named the painting “Militia Company of District II under the Command of Captain Frans Banninck Cocq.” 

But in the late 18th century, the varnish and dust caused it to darken to give the scene a proper nightlike appearance.

The painting was hence nicknamed De Nachtwacht, the Night Watch!

Luckily, the dark color did not spoil the painting’s beauty but only added to its dramatic effect.  

You can learn more such facts in our Rijksmsuseum Facts Article.

The Night Watch Painting: Meaning

The meaning of the Night Watch Painting has been up for debate for years.

There are many interpretations of this one art piece.

Most people believe that it is a scene of military men walking with pride to carry out their civic duties to their nation.

Rembrandt makes these men look heroic in the artwork, as they do brave work of protecting the public daily.

Some people also believe that the painting’s lighting shows the comparison between good and evil.

It shows that these men did good by protecting the public.

Since Rembrandt’s paintings were famous for showing the lifestyle of people in society, you can see differences between clothing.

It shows that even though these men came from different social backgrounds, they still got together to fight for their nation!We highly recommend a guided tour of the Rijksmuseum, as a professional guide will point out so many details that you might miss when visiting alone.

Rembrandt’s Unique Techniques used to paint the Night Watch

The Night Watch is an oil painting in which Rembrandt used two techniques to enhance its beauty!

The first technique is Chiaroscuro, a dramatic use of light and shadow to cast a 3D effect on the figures in the painting.

It also added a sense of drama and walking movement to the painting!

Another spectacular technique Rembrandt used is Impasto.

This technique consisted of applying thick layers of paint that make the brushstrokes stand out.

He mixed chalk and paint to thicken its consistency and give the painting a fun textured feel! 

Rembrandt used warm tones of colors and bright yellows to give the canvas a vibrant look. 

Scientists recently discovered a layer of lead, applied using circular brushstrokes, below the paint layer of the Night Watch!

Rembrandt usually used a layer of quartz-clay.

The first layer would painted with red earthen pigments before applying a second layer of white paint. 

The addition of lead is one of the unpopular techniques Rembrandt used, which cannot be seen in any of his other paintings.

Experts believe he used a cheaper material because of the massive size of the 12 by 14 feet masterpiece. 

Check out our Rembrandt in Rijksmuseum article to discover more of his masterpieces and compare the different techniques used!

Can you spot Rembrandt Van Rijn in the Night Watch?

If you spend some time observing the center of the Night Watch painting, you will see a man’s eye peeking out from among the soldiers.

The man wearing the beret and showing a single eye from behind is believed to be a self-portrait of Rembrandt! 

Behind the man wearing a green cloak and a guard with a metal helm, you can see Rembrandt’s self-portrait!

The Night Watch Painting’s Controversies

Conspiracy theories related to the Night Watch Painting
Image: Bigthink.com

The major controversy related to the painting is that the Rembrandt Night Watch painting angered the men who commissioned the art piece.

If you look at Rembrandt’s painting, he did not create a simple one that focused only on the guild members.

Instead, he highlighted the Captain and Lieutenant, along with a young girl, while the other members faded into the background.

Rembrandt chose to tell a story and show movement in his piece, which made it so famous!

One of the other famous controversies is the Night Watch painting, which showed the real-life murder threats Rembrandt was receiving!

The theory was from Peter Greenaway’s film, Night Watching, followed by a documentary Rembrandts J’accuse.

People believe that this is what led to his downfall, even though he was a famous artist.

However, there is no proof that such statements are true.

Why was the Night Watch Painting Cropped?

The Night Watch had to be cropped to fit in the space between two pillars at Amsterdam’s Town Hall!

It was sent in the year 1715 to be on display in Amsterdam Town Hall from the Rijksmuseum.

Two feet of the left side of the painting were trimmed, seven centimeters from the right, 12 centimeters from the bottom, and 9 inches from the top.

The original Night Watch lost two military men on the left side and a few architectural designs in the background. 

The Rijksmuseum’s research team, known as the Operation Night Watch Team, reconstructed some parts of the painting using Artificial Intelligence. 

You can see panels of this AI-generated painting in the Rijksmuseum beside the original art piece!

What is the worth of the Night Watch Painting?

Rembrandt received 1,600 guilders for the Night Watch painting when he completed it, which is a price of around €726 or $828 today. 

Since the Rembrandt painting gained popularity after completion, the Rijksmuseum got this masterpiece for display.

It is now a priceless painting in the Night Watch Rijksmseum Gallery, and you cannot attach a price tag to its value anymore.

The Night Watch Painting has been attacked three times!

Since the Night Watch Rembrandt painting is valuable to Amsterdam and the Rijksmuseum, it has undergone attacks. 

Here are three of the attacks the painting survived!

The First Knife Attack on 13th January 1911

On 13th January 1911, an unemployed shoemaker took out his anger on the painting.

He did this by slashing the Night Watch painting with a knife. 

To everyone’s surprise, the thick coat of varnish saved the painting from damage completely!

The Second Destructive Attack on 14th September 1975

The next attack took place on 14th September 1975, when a school teacher named Wilhelmus de Rijk attacked the painting with a knife. 

He claimed that he was doing it for God, and this attack caused severe damage to the Night Watch painting.

He made twelve deep slashes on the piece with the knife, which is still visible after restoration.

The Acid Spray Attack on 6th April 1990

The final attack on the Night Watch was the most dangerous for the painting but was avoided because of the interference of guards.

A psychiatric patient who escaped from the hospital tried to spray acid on the piece. 

The painting you see at the Rijksmuseum today is a restored piece, which has not lost its original charms!

Restorations of the Rijksmuseum Night Watch Painting

The Night Watch is the most famous Rijksmuseum painting, and it would be terrible to leave it as it is after the damage done.

The Rijksmuseum conducted a complete restoration of the Night Watch in 2019.

It was taken out of its glass frame after almost 50 years to complete this renovation.

The restoration was live-streamed and is available to watch online!

An AI-generated image using Rembrandt’s painting style is on display beside the Night Watch painting.

Visitors can now see the original artwork by Rembrandt, before vandalization, in the Rijksmuseum!

Fun Facts about Rijksmuseum’s Night Watch Painting!

Some exciting facts about Rembrandt’s Night Watch Rijksmuseum painting are:

  • 30,000 paintings and the Night Watch were in a St. Petersburg cave during the Second World War!
  • You can see Amsterdam’s Court of Arms on the coat of Lieutenant Willem van Ryutenburg!
  • Rembrandt was the first artist to make a group portrait look historical. He did this instead of painting a simple picture of people sitting down.
  • An Operation Night Watch Group began in 2019 at the Rijksmuseum to study more about this famous gem.  
  • No one knows how long Rembrandt took to paint the Night Watch. Experts believe it took more than a year. 
  • Out of the 34 characters in the Night Watch, only 18 are portraits of real people.  

Check out other Top 10 Rijksmuseum facts for a knowledgeable visit to the museums’ masterpieces!

Helpful Tips to have the Best Art Experience when visiting the Night Watch Painting 

Here are some essential tips to know before you plan your visit to see the Rijksmuseum Night Watch painting:

  • Book your Rijksmuseum tickets in advance. They are not available at the entrance. 
  • Arrive early in the morning from 9 am to 11 am, to enjoy a less crowded visit.
  • Begin your visit from the Gallery of Honors, as it is the most crowded room in the Rijksmuseum.  
  • Check for temporary exhibits in the Museum before visiting to avoid missing out.
  • Wear comfortable shoes, so that you can walk around the museum for long hours.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ’s)

Why is the Night Watch so famous?

The Night Watch is famous because of the artistic techniques of light and shadow used by Rembrandt. It is also the first painting in the world to show a portrait in action instead of still.

How big is the Night Watch painting?

The Night Watch is 12 by 14 feet wide and covers a huge chunk of the wall of the Rijksmuseum.

Where is the Night Watch painting in the Rijksmuseum?

The Night Watch painting is in the Night Watch Gallery, the most crowded in Rijksmuseum. The Night Watch Gallery is a part of the Gallery of Honors.

Why was the Night Watch so controversial?

The Night Watch was not controversial due to the subject matter but because of the way people were portrayed. Rembrandt focused only on Captain Banninck Cocq and Lieutenant Willem van Ryutenburg. The others got lost in the background.

What type of painting is the Night Watch?

The Night Watch is a historical portrait painting by Rembrandt of a group of army men from the Kloveniersdoelen company.

What is an interesting fact about the Night Watch?

The most interesting fact about the Night Watch is that it captures a daytime scene of soldiers marching.

Who is the girl dressed in gold in the Night Watch?

The girl dressed in gold in the Night Watch is the mascot of the Kloveniersdoelen Company.

Why is it called the Night Watch?

Rembrandt named the painting the Militia Company of District II under the Command of Captain Frans Banninck Cocq. It got the name the Night Watch because of its dark shade developed over years of dust collecting over the varnish.

How much money was Rembrandt paid for the Night Watch painting?

Rembrandt received around 1,600 guilders, now equal to €762, for his Night Watch painting.

What museum is Rembrandt’s Night Watch in?

Rembrandt’s Night Watch is in the Night Watch Gallery of the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam.

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Featured Image: Rijksmuseum.nl

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