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Artwork Review: The Night Watch by Rembrandt
Posted by Graphica on 12/28/2008 3:45:49 PM (ET)
Filed Under: General
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The Militia Company of Captain Banning Cocq is the real name of this painting, which was set not in darkness as was long believed, but in sunlight! In the two hundred years it hung over fireplaces and candlelight, it was gradually obscured by soot and by many coats of varnish. When it was thoroughly cleaned in 1947, the painting was dramatically restored to its early brightness. Its original size, unfortunately, could not be recaptured. On its removal, in 1715, to the Royal Palace, the work had been cut down by two feet on the left and trimmed slightly elsewhere, in order to fit its new site. This mutilation affects the balance of the composition, giving it a more crowded appearance than was intended.

Rembrandt - The Night Watch

Oil on Canvas

Contrary to an endlessly repeated myth, Rembrandt did not displease the militia company with his portrayal, and the painter's fortunes did not suddenly decline because of this picture. Nonetheless, the lengthy sittings necessary for a portrait 0f this size tended to discourage similar efforts.

The painting is vibrant with complex movement and brilliant flashes of color. The tilt of the banner, the sharp angularity of spears and rifles, and the beams of golden light that illuminate certain key figures and groups keep the spectator's eye restlessly moving about. The direct, unstudied gestures of the militiamen have occasioned the judgment by some that they look more like masqueraders than serious soldiers. Indeed, Rembrandt has depicted them as the solid burghers they were, in or out of uniform.

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