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“The Night Watch” by Rembrandt van Rijn

The Nightwatch by Rembrandt - Rijksmuseum

“The Night Watch” by Rembrandt van Rijn

“The Night Watch” by Rembrandt van Rijn depicts a company of military men moving out, led by the Captain dressed in black, with a red sash and his lieutenant dressed in yellow, with a white sash. The Night Watch is one of the most famous Dutch Golden Age paintings. The painting is noteworthy for its colossal size, its dramatic use of light and shadow, plus the perception of motion in what would have traditionally been a traditional static military group portrait.

Rembrandt has skillfully used sunlight and shade to lead the eye to the three most important characters among the crowd. They are the two gentlemen in the centre from whom the painting gets its original title, and the woman in the centre-left background carrying a dead chicken tied to her belt. Rembrandt has displayed the woman with the claws of a dead chicken on her belt to represent the symbols of the arquebusiers, and she is holding the militia’s goblet. The dead chicken represents a defeated adversary. The colour yellow is often associated with victory.

Behind them, are the company’s colours are held up by the ensign, and these figures are almost life-size. The traditional emblem of the infantryman armed with their arquebus, which is the name of the long gun from that period, which are carried in the background.


Rembrandt van Rijn was an innovative and prolific master draughtsman, painter, and printmaker. He is generally considered one of the greatest visual artists in the history of art and the most important in Dutch art history. Rembrandt’s works depict a range of styles and subjects, from portraits and self-portraits to landscapes, genre scenes, allegorical and historical scenes, biblical and mythological themes as well as animal studies.

Insights into the “The Night Watch” by Rembrandt van Rijn

  • The scene was not set at night, so it is not the night watch. Rembrandt’s painting was set in the daytime. The dark background mistaken for the time of day was actually a varnish turned dark with age and dirt.
  • The title “Night Watch”  became more popular over the last hundred years rather than the longer formal names for the painting. During a restoration in the 1940s, some of the darkened varnishes were removed, but the name stuck.
  • The official titles of this painting include: “Officers and Other Civic Guardsmen of District II of Amsterdam, under the command of Captain Frans Banninck Cocq and Lieutenant Willem van Ruytenburch”; “Militia Company of District II under the Command of Captain Frans Banninck Cocq”; and “The Shooting Company of Frans Banninck Cocq and Willem van Ruytenburch”.
  • No two faces are looking the same way; everyone seems to be looking somewhere else. In addition, every figure is differently aligned. Is Rembrandt suggesting chaos rather than of discipline?


  • No two faces are looking the same way; why is everyone looking somewhere else?
  • Is this painting showing more chaos than discipline?

The Night Watch

  • Title:              The Night Watch
  • Other Titles:  The Company of Frans Banning Cocq and Willem van Ruytenburgh
  • Dutch Title:   De Nachtwacht
  • Artist:            Rembrandt
  • Created:        1642
  • Medium:       Oil on canvas
  • Periods:         Dutch Golden Age, Baroque
  • Dimensions:  363 cm × 437 cm (142.9 in × 172.0 in)
  • Museum:       Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam


Highlights of the Rijksmuseum


“A painting is complete when it has the shadows of god.”
– Rembrandt


Photo Credit 1) Rembrandt [Public domain]