Photo: public domain

The Night Watch

Rembrandt, 1642
Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam

Officers of the Militia Company of District II Commanded by Captain Frans Banninck Cocq was commissioned in 1640 as a civic guard portrait, but what Rembrandt delivered in 1642 was his greatest history painting. Movement, the palette, and the architectural values of the Roman arch, mediated through an Amsterdam landmark – St Anthony’s Gate – are brilliantly orchestrated. Together, they stage this spectacle of these civic guardsmen starting out on their rounds, but with an air of excitement created by light and shadow. Although the scene is nocturnal, it is not necessarily set at night. Rembrandt often presented “daytime” histories, such as his 1640 Visitation, splashed by light wreathed in the mysteries of dusk or darkness.

A timeless image? Rembrandt turned an everyday occurrence of people from disparate backgrounds gathering to serve the common good into a universal image that transcends the particular moment. For Rembrandt I think it expressed the allegory Eendracht van’t Land (“Unity of the Nation,” 1640/42) and was a prelude to the Batavians’ oath in Claudius Civilis (1661). Today it speaks to the urgency with which so many congregate in the streets, seeking a way forward.

Joaneath Spicer, The James A. Murnaghan Curator of Renaissance and Baroque Art, Walters Art Museum, Baltimore

Explore more

Multimedia tour Highlights of The Rijksmuseum

Only for mobile phones

Experience on

Multimedia tour Highlights of the Gallery of Honor - Great Dutch masters of the 17th century

Only for mobile phones

Experience on

Rembrandt, de verhalenverteller

Podcast ‘In het Rijksmuseum’ (19 mins, in Dutch)

Listen on

Operation Night Watch

The largest research and conservation project ever for Rembrandt’s painting

Read on

Interactive tour of the Night Watch

By the Rijksmuseum and NTR

Experience on

Interactive tour of the Night Watch for children

By the Rijksmuseum and NTR

Experience on

Details of the Night Watch

Learn more about the painting

View on Google Arts & Culture

Rijksmuseum Masterpieces Up Close

Visit the Rijksmuseum from home

View on