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The Night Watch by Rembrandt is not actually called The Night Watch

The Night Watch — Rembrandt’s most popular painting — is the most famous work of art in the Rijksmuseum.

Officially titled, ‘Company of Frans Banning Cocq and Willem van Ruytenburch,’ the painting is a group portrait of a division of the civic guard — the Kloveniers militia.

The kloverniers took on their name in 1522 — when they exchanged foot bows for primitive guns that were called bussen or kloveren.

Rembrandt's painting The Night Watch, Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam

Rembrandt’s painting The Night Watch – at Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam

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The painting was controversial not because of its subject, but because of the way Rembrandt depicted the group’s members.

Rather than giving each of them equal prominence, he created the painter’s equivalent of a snapshot: a group of militiamen who have just moved into action and are about to march off.

In fact, the Rijksmuseum notes that Rembrandt was the first artist to paint figures in a group portrait actually doing something.

The Night Watch was completed in 1642.

The enormous painting was cut down on all sides — possibly in 1715 — when it was moved from a room in the Kloveniersdoelen (located on the spot now occupied by the NH Doelen Hotel) for which it was painted, to the town hall of Amsterdam (the building that is now the Palace at Dam Square).


Nickname: The Night Watch

It is not clear when the painting earned the nickname, The Night Watch — but we do know why the name stuck. Over the years the painting’s coat of varnish had darkened to the point where the daylit scene could easily be mistaken for a night scene.

The varnish was removed during the 1940’s, but the name remained popular.

According to the Rijksmuseum, Rembrandt was paid the equivalent of 726 Euro — about $795.1

Since the civic guard was a municipal institution, The Night Watch belongs to the city of Amsterdam.

It is on permanent loan by the Rijksmuseum.

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  1. €726 worked out to $950 when we first posted this article, on December 17, 2015.
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This post was last updated: Dec. 20, 2016