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This is an early, small-scale copy of one of the world’s most famous paintings, Rembrandt’s The Night Watch of 1642 (Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam). Rembrandt’s commission was to paint a huge group portrait of musketeers under the command of Captain Frans Banning Cocq. At the time, companies of volunteers like these, known as militia groups, were an important part of the defence arrangements for Dutch cities. Membership and leadership positions were held in high esteem.
This picture is far smaller than the original – about 0.5 square metres compared with nearly 16 square metres – but it is a vital historical document. It records details which were lost when The Night Watch was cut down on all sides, probably in 1715. The two men and a child on the extreme left no longer appear in Rembrandt’s painting, and the National Gallery copy also shows more of the drummer on the right.
This is an early, small-scale copy of one of the world’s most famous paintings, Rembrandt’s The Night Watch, a monumental work of 1642 which now hangs in the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam.
Rembrandt’s commission was to paint a huge group portrait of musketeers under the command of Captain Frans Banning Cocq, a lawyer who had inherited a fortune from his father-in-law. A few years after the painting was finished, Cocq was to become Mayor of Amsterdam. At the time, companies of volunteers like these, known as militia groups, were an important part of the defence arrangements for Dutch cities. Membership and leadership positions were held in high social esteem and many expensive portraits were made of different groups.
Rembrandt received the huge sum of 1,600 guilders for his original painting, which shows Banning Cocq, wearing a red sash in the foreground, directing his lieutenant, Willem van Ruytenburch, resplendent in yellow, to order the company to march out. Behind them the company’s colours are carried by the ensign, Jan Visscher Cornelissen. A dozen or so other members of the militia strike various poses: cleaning, loading and apparently even firing their muskets. Look at the figure in the helmet immediately behind Banning Cocq – he appears to have discharged his gun as another musketeer deflects the angle of the barrel. Quite what is happening here is one of the famous mysteries of the painting.
The sitters paid an average of 100 guilders each for their portraits, the sum varying with the degree of prominence in the painting. After it was finished, the work was hung in the Kloveniersdoelen (great room) of the Amsterdam musketeers’ meeting place, together with portraits of militia groups by other painters. It remained there until 1715, when it was removed to the town hall. This copy closely follows the original, and was probably commissioned by Banning Cocq himself. The picture was owned by relatives of his and a watercolour copy that the captain had made for his family album (on loan to the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam) was based on this copy rather than Rembrandt’s painting.
It is far smaller than the original – about 0.5 square metres compared with nearly 16 square metres. But it is a vital historical document, as it records details of the original which were lost when it was cut down on all sides when it was moved to the town hall. The two men and a child behind a parapet on the extreme left in the copy no longer appear in The Night Watch, and the copy also shows more of the drummer on the right. An elaborately framed cartouche (shield) inscribed with militiamen’s names which hangs on the right side of the arch in The Night Watch is not seen in the copy; it was almost certainly added to the original painting long after it was finished.
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