Rembrandt’s Night Watch was like 1642 version of Facebook tagging

RASHMEE ROSHAN LALL December 9, 2013

The_Nightwatch_by_RembrandtIt was back in April that the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam celebrated the return of Rembrandt’s ‘The Night Watch’ with a remarkable recreation of the painting in a shopping mall in the southern Dutch city of Breda. (Watch it here.)

I remember reading about it at the time but just recently stumbled across the video again. And I was entranced. It was the 17th century version of ‘hot pursuit’ of ‘undesirable elements’. In period costume, a thief runs out of a store chased by solemn-faced men and a rather vertically-challenged individual (who would, in those non-politically correct times, have been called a dwarf). There’s some daring and daredevilry, abseiling down ropes, men on horseback and flashing bayonets, and 30 seconds later, a frame drops from the rafters, and the actors snap into position, frozen in the exact way Rembrandt painted ‘The Company of Captain Frans Banning Cocq and Lieutenant Willem van Ruytenburch Preparing to March Out’ (to give the piece its real name).

The Company was apparently a proud civic militia and paid Rembrandt a hundred guilders each for being painted. Eighteen names appear on a shield – these were painted later, the 1642 equivalent, I suppose, of tagging someone on Facebook today.

The mall recreation was a reminder, if any were needed, that ‘The Night Watch’ may be one of the most famous paintings in the world but it was a slice of everyday life. Albeit in the 17th century.