Rembrandt van Rijn, The Night Watch painting is officially titled the “Militia Company of District II under the Command of Captain Frans Banninck Cocq”. It is an oil on canvas painting which is held by the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam and it is one of the most famous Rembrandt paintings.
Painted in 1642, The Night Watch is a true masterpiece of the Dutch Golden Age and truly places Rembrandt at the vanguard of Dutch Golden Age artists.
The painting was commissioned in 1639 by Captain Banninck Cocq and his men; Rembrandt’s Night Watch painting depicts over thirty-four individuals. They paid 1,600 guilders for the group portrait, which was a massive amount of money at the time. Each named man within the work paid just over one hundred guilders each.
Even at this time, Rembrandt van Rijn paintings sold for substantial sums.
Rembrandt’s Night Watch painting is famous not only for the skill of the artist, but also for its enormous size. It measures a staggering 363 cm by 437 cm, truly enveloping the viewer in the scene. The painting was originally commissioned to hang in the company’s banqueting hall and the large size was well suited to the grand proportions of the newly constructed Musketeer’s Meeting Hall.
The large scale of the painting has led scholars to debate where Rembrandt could have actually painted the group portrait as his studio was simply too small.
However, around this time, Rembrandt applied to the city to extend a “summer kitchen” at the rear of his property. The recorded dimensions of his extension would have just fitted the painting.
Whilst the exact location where the painting was completed remains uncertain, there are schools of thought which believe it may have been the adjacent church. Other theories are that it was painted directly in the Kloveniersdoelen (the Musketeers' Meeting Hall).
As well as the sheer size of the painting, Rembrandt’s Night Watch painting demonstrates his proficiency with light and shadow. The artist employs the technique of “tenebrism” which from Italian, literally translates as “gloomy and mysterious”. The style incorporates particularly strong chiaroscuro (bold contrasts between light and dark), with darker tones dominating. Similarly, to theater spotlights used today, it adds great drama and movement to Rembrandt’s famous painting.
Within the work, Rembrandt depicts the Night Watch company led by Captain Frans Banninck Cocq and his lieutenant, Willem van Ruytenburch. Cocq appears in black with a red sash, whilst Ruytenburch is in yellow with a white sash. Within Dutch Golden Age art, yellow commonly referenced victory.
The viewer's gaze falls on the most significant figures in the composition, situated in the center. Following that, an enigmatic woman in the background emerges, carrying a chicken. This references the militia’s traditional emblems as well as signifying a (dead) defeated enemy. The woman is also holding the militia's goblet, while the man in front wears a helmet with an oak leaf, another company emblem.
In 1715, Rembrandt’s famous painting hung in the Amsterdam Town Hall. To squeeze the painting between two pre-existing columns, installers trimmed it on all four sides. Whilst this practice is shocking now, this was common at the time. Despite this, the cropping resulted in two characters on the left-hand side disappearing from existence.
To this day, these sections of the portrait are still missing. We only know the original composition from a Gerrit Lundens copy hanging in the National Gallery, London.
In 2021, these missing sections were recreated by Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum using Lunden’s copy and artificial intelligence techniques. This placed the lieutenants slightly off-center and reintroduced blank space into the painting. These additions created a dynamic feeling of marching towards the left, thought more representative of Rembrandt’s original composition.
Dutch Golden Age artist Rembrandt van Rijn was born in July, 1606 and died in October 1669.
Known simply as Rembrandt, he is considered to be one of the greatest visual artists in history, and the most important artist in Dutch art history. Rembrandt was a master draughtsman and printmaker, as well as being a painter, and his work showed a broad range of style as well as subject matter, painting a great variety of subjects, from portraits and self-portraits to landscapes and biblical scenes, mythological scenes, animal studies and landscapes.
Like Vermeer, another Dutch Golden Age artist, Rembrandt never left his native Holland, but was influenced in his work by the Italian masters, and by other Dutch artists who had been to Italy to study, artists such as Pieter Lastman and Peter Paul Rubens.
Rembrandt was born in Leiden, to a well off family; his father was a successful miller, who sent the young Rembrandt to the University of Leiden, where he showed an interest and great aptitude for painting. He studied as an apprentice to a Leiden history painter, Jacob van Swanenburg, staying with him for three years.
After this Rembrandt had a brief but important six months apprenticeship with Pieter Lastman in Amsterdam. He then opened his own workshop. In 1629 Rembrandt’s paintings were noticed by the Dutch statesman Constantijn Huygens, who introduced the young Rembrandt to Prince Frederick Hendrik, a Prince of Orange, who purchased many Rembrandt paintings over a period of many years.
In 1631, Rembrandt moved from The Hague to Amsterdam, where he achieved great success as a professional portrait painter.
In 1634 he had married Saskia van Uylenburgh in 1634. With the success of Rembrandt’s portrait paintings, the couple were able to purchase a newly built house in a smart area of the city, the Breestraat, which was becoming a prominent Jewish quarter of Amsterdam. Today, the house is the Rembrandt Museum House. It has been restored with interiors very similar to those of Rembrandt’s time.
Rembrandt used many of his Jewish neighbors as models for his Old Testament series of paintings. This was unusual at a time when Jews were often discriminated against.
Saskia died in 1642. Rembrandt had an affair with the woman hired to look after his son Titus when his wife was ill. Rembrandt then married a much younger woman with whom he had one daughter.
It was at this time that Rembrandt found himself in financial difficulties as he habitually spent more than his considerable income. As a result, he was forced to sell the house, moving to a smaller property, in a less affluent area of Amsterdam.
In the early 20th century, it was estimated by scholars that Rembrandt had painted well over 600 paintings, 400 etchings and 2,000 drawings. In more recent years, experts have reduced the numbers of Rembrandt’s paintings very significantly. As an example, it had been estimated that Rembrandt had painted some 90 self-portraits. That number is more likely to be about 40 actually painted by Rembrandt himself as it has become known that Rembrandt required his students to paint portraits of him during their apprenticeships.
Rembrandt’s famous paintings are widely held in museums and private collections around the world. The most extensive collections are in the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam and the Mauritshuis in The Hague. Other notable collections are at the Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg, the National Gallery in London, The Louvre in Paris, the Frick Collection and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, The National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, and the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles.
Rembrandt’s most famous painting is The Night Watch 1642. The painting is in the collection of the Amsterdam Museum but is on display at the Rijksmuseum. It is recognized as the museum’s most famous painting and one of the most famous Dutch Golden Age paintings.
The painting is notable for its huge size – nearly 12 feet long and over 14 feet wide – with the central figures being nearly life sized. Over the years the painting was been trimmed to fit into a smaller frame and several of the originally 34 figures were lost. Rembrandt’s Night Watch three years to paint.
Other famous Rembrandt paintings include:
The Storm on the Sea of Galilee 1633. This is Rembrandt’s only known Seascape, and was stolen in 1990 from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston. The painting depicts the miracle of Jesus calming the storm. The painting has never been recovered.
Rembrandt’s The Jewish Bride painted in 1667 shows a father giving his daughter a necklace on her wedding day. This painting is held by the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam.
The Head of Christ was painted in 1648. It is based on a Jewish model who was one of Rembrandt’s neighbors at the time, and is held by the Gemaldegalerie in Berlin.
Bathsheba at Her Bath was painted in 1654, showing the Biblical King David seeing Bathsheba bathing and seducing her. The painting is held by The Louvre in Paris.
The Man with the Golden Helmet was painted in 1650, and is also held by the Gemaldegalerie in Berlin, and is another classic example of the Dutch Golden Age.
Danae was painted in 1636 and shows the mythological figure Danae meeting Zeus in the form of a shower of gold. The painting is in the collection of the Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg.
Self Portrait with Beret and Turned Up Collar is one of many of Rembrandt’s self-portraits. The painting was completed in 1659 and is held by the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.
The Prodigal Son in a Brothel was painted in 1637 and it has been discovered that the two figures depicted in the painting Rembrandt himself and his wife Saskia. The painting is held by The Gemaldegalerie Alte Meister, in Dresden.
The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp 1632 is considered an early Rembrandt masterpiece.
Self Portrait with Two Circles is widely considered to be Rembrandt’s greatest self-portrait oil painting. Painted between 1665 and 1669, the portrait shows Rembrandt with his palette and brush, wearing a white hat and red bib over a white shirt and a fur coat. The meaning of the two circles is unknown.
The Return of the Prodigal Son 1661 – 1669 is one of Rembrandt’s final paintings before his death. Showing the famous Biblical parable, the painting is held in the Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg.,
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