Rembrandt van Rijn, Captain Frans Banning Cocq Mustering His Company (The Night Watch), 1642

14 Aug

During the seventeenth century, the primary source of income for Dutch artists like Rembrandt van Rijn was from portraiture as the prosperous middle class loved to commission portraits. Dutch painters became known for their group portraiture that documented the membership of corporate organizations in the Netherlands during the Dutch Golden Age. These large group portraits proved to be a challenge as artists wanted to present a coherent and appealing composition while also giving individual attention to each member. One of the most famous group portraits is Rembrandt’s Captain Frans Banning Cocq Mustering His Company also known as The Night Watch. The portrait was commissioned by a civic guard company and each member paid an equal share in order to pay for the commission.

The company is led by Captain Frans Banning Cocq, who is dressed in black with a bright red sash. The colors within The Night Watch are brilliant and bold with blue, green, red, orange and centered around a brilliant yellow. The play of light and dark, or chiaroscuro, adds to the drama and is a characteristic of Rembrandt. It also shows his close study of the Italian Renaissance masters. The group was also known as the Arquebusiers after the kind of gun they carried, called the arquebus. Rembrandt portrayed the group’s affiliation through the young girl in the yellow dress, situated on the left side of the painting. She carries a chicken with claws in one hand, which plays off the name Arquebusiers, while the other holds the militia’s goblet. The chaotic, marching movement of the group becomes more like a parade as a crowd grows around the militiamen. Each person within the group is given equal treatment within the painting as each member helped pay for the commission. However, a group like feeling is conveyed as the members interact with one another. The likenesses proved to be extraordinary making this one of the greatest group portraits and asserting the mastery of Rembrandt among other European artists.

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