The Night Watch — a closer look.

Gunners of District II under Captain Frans Banninck Cocq and Lieutenant Willem van Ruytenburch, ‘The Night Watch’ (Schutters van Wijk II onder kapitein Frans Banninck Cocq en luitenant Willem van Ruytenburch, ‘De Nachtwacht’ ) Amsterdam Museum

The Rijksmuseum’s most famous work (on loan from the Amsterdam Museum), Rembrandt’s Night Watch, has been photographed in ultra-high resolution, allowing you to zoom-in to see brushstrokes and even details of the pigments.

The Rijksmuseum’s imaging team led by data scientist Robert Erdmann made this photograph of The Night Watch from a total of 528 exposures. They stitched together digitally the 24 rows of 22 pictures with the aid of neural networks. The ultimate image is 44.8 gigapixels (44,804,687,500 pixels), and the distance between each pixel is 20 micrometres (0.02 mm). This enables the scientists to study the painting, remotely. They will also use the image to track any future ageing processes taking place in the painting.
The mischievous character in the background is believed to be a self-portrait of Rembrandt.
A screenshot of Rembrandt’s eye at maximum resolution.

We visited the museum for the second time last year, and what strikes you first about this painting is its size. It is a massive 3.63 m × 4.37 m (almost 12ft × 14ft), such that the 34 characters in the painting are life-size. Why so big?

The hall of the Night Watch in the Rijksmuseum. 28 February 2019. © Adrian Thysse

The painting was originally commissioned by Captain Banning Cocq and the civic militia guard, (the Kloveniers), to hang in the Great Hall of the newly built Musketeers’ Shooting Range (Kloveniersdoelen) in Amsterdam.

The Kloveniersdoelen on the Amstel-De Kloveniersburgwal on the corner of the Amstel with the tower “Swijgh Utrecht”, by Jan Ekels the Elder (1755). Amsterdam Museum.

In the Dutch Golden Age, Amsterdam’s Great Halls were indeed great. As the ultimate example of this, consider that Amsterdam’s City Hall, completed in 1655 would later become the Royal Palace of Louis Napoléon Bonaparte after he became King of Bavaria in 1806.

The old city hall, now a Royal Palace. © Adrian Thysse

Much as sports teams do now with group photographs, it was the tradition then to place paintings of the group members along the walls of the meeting hall. Considering that the Musketeers Hall was for the Civic Guard, and that was one of three in Amsterdam at the time, you can’t help but be impressed with the size, as indicated in 18th-century print below. These glorified men’s clubs, the Schuttersgilde, were formed by the well-to-do, and the massive group portraits helped confirm their status.

by Reinier Vinkeles (1741 – 1816)

By the time they made the above print (1748), Rembrandt’s Night Watch had already cut down and moved to the Small Council of War Chamber (Kleine Krijgsraadkamer) in the grand city hall.

The painting is currently undergoing restoration at the Rijksmuseum. Visit Operation Night Watch for the most up-to-date information.



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