Why This Is Rembrandt’s Masterpiece


Rembrandt’s painting, “The Night Watch” perhaps the most famous work of his long career and of the Dutch golden age generally is not set at night, and it’s not really a “watch” either. It’s a painting of the militia company of district two under the command of Captain Frans Banninck Cocq. Which is also its true, long, original name. A century later After years of varnish and low light darkened the canvas Someone called it “The Night Watch,” and it stuck. Because, well, that’s what it looked like In fact, “The Night Watch” was meant to be a day-time scene Just like other portraits of the Dutch civic guards: groups of well-to-do Amsterdam citizens tasked with keeping the peace should threats come to the city walls. Over the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries civic guard portraits became a genre all it’s own, and as painting in the Netherlands moved away from spiritual subject matter and towards the secular, artists welcomed commission work from these wealthy guilds because they wanted large group portraits again and again and again. But if you wanna know why Rembrandt’s is the only civic guard painting that makes it into most school curriculums all you have to do is look at it. Commissioned to do what all the others had done, show off the paying members of the guild, Rembrandt takes the genre and explodes his vision through it. “The Night Watch” is an eruption of action, shadow, and light with drama that’s more suited to a Biblical or historical epic, not seventeen guys from peacetime Amsterdam. No offense to Captain Cocq. So what makes “The Night Watch” so great? Well, what hits me right away is the balance that Rembrandt strikes between chaos and unity. He clearly wanted to create a canvas with a lot of movement, but the challenge was how to make that movement, people lurching in different directions, performing a variety of actions cohere into a unified whole. The keystone, the part of the painting that holds everything in place, are the dual figures of the captain and his lieutenant the rest of the portrait moves away from them diagonally indeed, Rembrandt places these lines directly onto the painting in the form of weapons and poles and the effect isn’t just two dimensional. Maybe the most striking thing is the captain and the lieutenant seem to be emerging from the picture plane, the captain’s hand, ordering the company forward. It’s as if you could grab it and pull him out of the frame. The lieutenant’s partizan, the spear-like weapon he’s holding in his left hand, is so expertly foreshortened, it feels like it could cut you. In fact, based on the angle and the placement of the weapon’s shadow on the ground, the partizan is beyond the picture plane, or at least it should be. Another trick Rembrandt uses to acheive this effect is one that will be familiar to film makers. The figures in the front are painted with detail and clarity while the further back you go in the composition, the softer and hazier things seem to get Rembrandt is mimicking “depth of field,” an optical phenomenon that can make objects in focus pop from their backgrounds. All of these effects were carefully planned by Rembrandt to anchor the composition around the central figures. The longer you look at the night watch, the more meaning emerges from this burst of frenetic energy. For example, the three men with guns are performing the three main actions associated with the Arquebus — the primary weapon of this particular guild. Loading, firing, and blowing clear the gun powder pan In fact, these poses match almost perfectly engravings from a book called “Exercise of Arms” a famous manual on how to use weaponry released at the beginning of that century. This particular civic guard, the Clauweniers, is signaled again in the chicken that’s hanging from the young girl’s waist, – a similar claw was on the Clauweniers’s coat of arms. And while the captain’s hand points toward the viewer, its shadow points towards his company’s function. It’s cradling the emblem of Amsterdam, a Lion and three crosses. The clauweniers were supposed to protect the city. The other notable feature is Rembrandt’s famous use of chiaroscuro. An effect of deeply contrasted light and shadow It’s a technique that first came to prominence in the work of Carravaggio, who used sharp contrasts and harsh lighting to create intense drama in his paintings. Rembrandt was clearly interested in this technique, but for him, light served a somewhat different purpose Not only is Rembrandt’s chiaroscuro softer than Carravaggio’s but the light in his paintings seems to have a numinous quality As if, once it touches the subjects, it becomes a part of them. If we turn back to “The Night Watch” we can see that Rembrandt uses chiaroscuro to single out two key figures. The lieutenant and the girl. As we’ve already seen, both these figures contain symbols that call back to the group itself. In the case of the Lieutenant, it’s as if the captain’s orders to assemble are illuminating his second in command and from his light, the rest of the company is to fall in line. And yet, compositionally, the two lighted figures almost serve the opposite purpose. Instead of unifying the company, the girl and the lieutenant seem strategically placed to break up the individual men in the canvas. Flanking the captain, they almost isolate him. And thanks to their contrast, we’re drawn to the haphazard actions and faces each man. All seeming to be lost in their own world. “The Night Watch” is capturing the moments before the company sets out to its collective purpose. But the painting almost makes us doubt that they’ll ever get there. Indeed, by the time this painting was made in 1642, nearing the victorious end of the eighty years war with the Spanish, the Dutch were prosperous and civic guards were more ceremonial than necessary. At a certain point, these companies became clubs for men to play with their weapons and chip in for fancy group portraits. It’s not inconceivable that Rembrandt may have been secretly making fun of them a little bit in this, his most famous painting. But that’s the tension that the painter captures in “The Night Watch” An endless jockeying between light and dark, nation and individual, chaos and order. Rembrandt could never let either one of those elemental forces win out in his composition because if he did, he’d lose the most essential thing. The thing he was striving for and achieves with an effect that makes this one of the greatest paintings of all time Motion. Hey everybody, Thank you so much for watching. This episode was brought to you by NordVPN If you care a lot, like I do, about your privacy and security online, You should absolutely be using a VPN or Virtual Private Network to keep your data save by allowing you to connect to stuff remotely so that prying eyes can’t see your IP address and private information. I’ve had a few hacking scares myself, personally, so VPNs really help ease my mind and Nord VPN is your best option. If you’re watching this right now, you can get 66% off a two year plan by visiting NordVPN.com/NERDWRITER or using the promo code “Nerdwriter” at checkout I’ve shopped around in this space, used a few VPNs and NordVPN is definitely my favorite. 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100 thoughts on “Why This Is Rembrandt’s Masterpiece

  1. You should do a video about the show Atlanta. I feel like you would find amazing topics for that show.

  2. Seeing the painting in person really is a completely different experience than online.

  3. You ever hear something that sounds right in principle while also setting off every bullshit alarm in your brain?

  4. Your analysis on this one is way off. See Peter Greenaway's "Rembrandt: J'Accuse" for a detailed analysis.

  5. His use of chiaroscuro is more like that of DaVinci's rather than that of Caravaggio, and might have been a more accurate use of that term, but his lighting and drama is definitely Caravaggiesque.

  6. So informative! Thank you for making this video. I love art, and love the art history, the breakdown of technique etc. Saves me from having to take an art history class! Thanks!

  7. Great video! You managed to make a video about the most famous Dutch painting and teaching me only new insights. As a Dutch guy with a general interest in arts I've read a few reviews arguing what is great about this painting; the contrast between the genre of the painting and the composition used, the little girl of no particular importance to the guild being brought forward as an major (symbolic) theme, the careless brush stroke which so effectively captures the image and so on. Yet you were able to give me completely new insights into a painting I thought I was familiar with. Very well done, I love the attention to detail you have.

    One nitpicky remark from a native Dutch guy; the vowels in his name Rembrant, have to distinct pronunciations. The "a" sounds lake a British "a" in the word can't. I know foreign languages are difficult, but the "e" and "a" have a very different pronunciation and this bothered me. sorry…

  8. How could I get more of your videos on my main page than fucking cosmo videos… For some reason

  9. Truly amazing essay, love this painting!! And I am very lucky for having the chance to see it personally at the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam. Such a great piece of art.

  10. I'm learning about him cuz people be asking, where you got your name from? Haha I'm from place where not many knows him lol.

  11. I have a painting of a night watch by Rembrandt painted on hardboard media. if anyone is interested in buying it can contact me at +62 81293952682, later I will send photos of his paintings via WhatsApp. who's sold fast

  12. Sick painting, did anyone see the unfinished dog to the bottom right of the leutinent? Kinda cool

  13. At first I thought you had done some editing effects on the painting to achieve the in-focus out-of-focus effect until I realized that's just the painting. Incredible.

  14. I feel there were some arguments that were really interesting and showcased rembrandts study to richen his images (the different figures of the guards firing, loading), the hint of lines in the picture is also nicely explained . I cannot help but feel that other arguments could not be explained properly (the argument about perceptibility that is created via depth of field, is wrong but not by that much) and other times the explanations are not embedded in visual design theories but were merely explained as if it were magic. Undoubtedly, Rembrandt is often times called an alchemist has only so very few people know his methodology in creating his paintings, but one needn’t forget. He was only human too and looked at art, presumably in the same manner as contemporary photographers do today as well.

  15. When our Art history professor (at the Academy of Fine Arts in Zagreb) was analyzing this painting he said that the girl represents the ghost of his deceased wife. He also talked about how the guarsdmen were dissatisfied with the group portrait so much that Rembrandt went completely broke after it, no more commissions. The characters were not evenly represented on the painting, with some being half-cut out of the frame, covered by other characters and not accurately potrayed (with the exception of the captain and the lieutenant who were satisfied with their portraits). In a group portrait everyone who paid the sum was supposed to be evenly represented on the painting, much like on his "The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp" group portrait. And of course the girl was not supposed to be in it at all. Not sure how accurate all that is, but that's what he said.

  16. This is such a relaxing video to watch. You are cabeable of presenting an old masters painting like you are this person. Really beautiful ❤
    I think it would be astonishing to watch you going over a painting of John Singer Sargent.

  17. 1:54 – These effects! hahaha
    2:56 – Curious that this impression was caused by the painting's bottom being cut off to fit some wall.

  18. It's interesting to learn about this other interpretation of the motion in this painting. The way the Rijksmuseum sees it, which is where this painting hangs, is that the man in the front just gave a command to get ready, and everyone is just moving to come into action. That interpretation is much more proud.

  19. So, the Nightwatch is remarkable SUBJECTIVE IN FORM AND CONTENT, not REALISTIC!!!!!!!!!!!!! Many other works of Rembrandt show a lack of SUBJCTIVE CONTENT and a PSEUDO-REALISTIC STYLE!!!!!!!!!! This dark style, with real ugly people in an idealistic composition, was confronting and hated by the Dutch public of the 17th century. Rembrandt was seen as the master of shithole–paintings.(many houses weren not more then shitholes)

  20. Love your videos, they have been really helpful, especially now that I have to work. They also help me understand better and try to apply it in my own "art". love ya, keep up the good work <3

  21. You didn't even mention that the painting isn't complete, large pieces of it were cut off so it could fit into the city hall

  22. I'm surprised you didn't mention part of the painting was cut off so it could fit on the museum wall. In the original the captain is slightly off centered which makes for a different composition. Any thoughts on this?

  23. what's fun about watching the pope complaining about the royals ordering on an attack to the people? when overshadowed by emblems embodiments

  24. Scientific-educational project "REMBRANDT's Constellation"

    FILMS:

    — https://youtu.be/_brtwkuBMQ4

    — https://youtu.be/MGwuKPH6yhE

    — https://youtu.be/5epsTK0lN9c

    — https://youtu.be/u3OLoNsdaQ4

    — https://youtu.be/5bjS7IVty_M

    — https://youtu.be/Mg3E35P4Pog

    — https://youtu.be/ewERASZwb4U

    — https://youtu.be/qJKs2QYE9Rs

    — https://youtu.be/CEHQPeapgVI

    — https://youtu.be/t4zJq5kAxhs

    — https://youtu.be/uq7Sx6Ink4s

    — https://youtu.be/7T9uCQSFf9E

    — https://youtu.be/IzdtnZraZPY

    — https://youtu.be/tubHtfXepO4

    — https://youtu.be/MCzcL6dYKgs

    — https://youtu.be/_brtwkuBMQ4

    — https://youtu.be/-TUH9usjETk

    — https://youtu.be/_xlXhQrc-FI

    — https://youtu.be/2s9EI6zmhhc

    — https://youtu.be/xRahmdvXaHo

    — https://youtu.be/h3BmEDdoFP8

    — https://youtu.be/Yyb-6rh1btY

    — https://youtu.be/RtTRHIcZSq4

  25. I've been to the Rijksmuseum three times, and this is the painting that I spent the most time viewing. The reflection from the breastplate is truly a masterful piece of painting in itself.

  26. Hey, man. Can you make a video of Caravaggio's "Beheading of St. John the Baptist"?

  27. You made me become interested in art. This video is incredible! Also, love all the animations. It would be awesome to see a Tutorial on that maybe as 5milion special or something. Thanks for your videos

  28. Hi Nerdwriter1, you should really visit Amsterdam now and see the latest Rembrand exhibition.

  29. I came back to this video after discussing this painting in my Art History class, and I’m so glad I did! This is super informative and now I understand the painting more!

  30. Thank you for the video! I bought your nord vpn last August, but it didn’t work in China. Then I bought ExpressVPN, it works well there. I still didn’t get my money bake from you yet.

  31. Had the pleasure to witness the masterpieces when they are touring in Shanghai, the details are just mind blowing

  32. I simply wanted to point out how amazing and how much I love the tassle on the Lieutenant's partisan. You could go over this entire piece and find many similarly awesome details but that tassle, whoo, it just does it for me!

  33. i saw this painting in amsterdam when i was 16. didn't appreciate it back then

  34. So much interesting information in a short space of time from an atractive voice. Thank you

  35. The realization after watching is deepened that where do you belong in the talent hierarchy starting from Rembrandt.

  36. Leonardo da Vinci actually preceded Rembrandt in expert use of chiaroscuro and other techniques mentioned in the video. Nicely done, though!

  37. Just realized that other than just looking at a masterpiece and going wow…I dont know shit.

  38. What was the hole of the little girl? She apparently doesn't belong to the group, she is scared.

  39. All Dutch artist of that time were great. Ss an artist,I try to imagine trying to paint by window or candle light no heat&how did the get multiple people all on scale?

  40. Apparently the militia didn't like the painting. They didn't want to pay for it because it was too informal, too loose for their tastes. Alot of other militia paintings of the time depict the members as a cohesive trained unit, and the captain wanted a similar depiction for his own militia.

  41. There are just 2 people in the painting, the Lt. and the dude in white, they are having a coversation about the past and that´s why everything in the back is blurry. The background represents the conversation topics; the war (with the 3 dudes from the manual of using guns), the gatherings with musicians, some friends of his and a girl. The woman in the picture is maybe highlighted due to being the focus of attention of the speaker. The subjects depict a very likely conversation one could have with an old friend about the good old days. (just a theory)

  42. Captain "Coke"…we all know that's not the way to pronounce it 😉

  43. Now this is how you do analysis of a painting. Thanks for a great video.

  44. Knowing nothing about the subject, and leaving aside the artists technical ability. i'm confused about the composition.
    It looks like a chaotic scene, with no sense of reality.
    Is it supposed to represent an actual occurrence or is it a cast of characters placed in a collage ?

  45. If anyone is interested, here's a seventeenth century copy of the painting before it was trimmed
    https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Nachtwacht-kopie-van-voor-1712.jpg

  46. You are extremly smart for an american.
    Good job, new sub 👊

  47. So why has art evolved into splotches on paintings and black circles on a blank canvas. Art is devolving, with less detail the less we can connect with it. Modern art is ruining the art world.

  48. You might like this. They remade this with real actors in the Netherlands: https://www.nachtwacht360.nl/

  49. So strange to hear an American talk about art – like listening to a Chinese lecture on pizza

  50. Not to dispute the beauty, but, I have to imagine the commissioners of this piece weren't too pleased with it if over half the members are out of focus and cast in a partial shadow.

  51. The Rijksmuseum did a brilliant ad filmed in a mall using the vignette of The Night Watch.

    https://youtu.be/a6W2ZMpsxhg

  52. You should make a video of Frans Hals also one of the best Dutch painters and the master of the portrait.

  53. Does anyone else see the big Toro (Bull) trotting in the middle of all the action or is just me ? The guy right above the girl, holding his arm up+ His Torso is the bulls head and his arm held up is one of the toros sharp horns – And the guy dressed in red reloading his weapon, is getting a kiss on the back of his shoulder by the beast+ or maybe the bull is charging at a red cape dangling in front of its snout + now how about the lil girl which seems to be hugging the animal embracing its barreled chest w/her head right beneath the jaw line & chin line of the macho bull. Can anyone see what i see? like Wtf who invited Merrill Lynch to the party

  54. Imagine being aware of depth of field before cameras – that's so cool! 😮

  55. Would be awesome if the background music was King Crimsons ‘The night watch’ anyway awesome educational video!

  56. I love your videos and especially the understanding art videos.

  57. I never saw what was so special about Rembrandt paintings with chaotic claques of people. You made me see how innovative this painting is. But it's intimate individual portraits that always make me fall in love with Rembrandt. His self-portraits are very good, like the one in 4:46. And the ones that give me goose-pimples because they're so wrought with love and emotion are like the portrait at 4:53. You can feel the pain, the tears, the shock, the regret, the years, that burden this old man. It's almost magical, how Rembrandt can do this 400 years later. (My favorite painting by Rembrandt that struck me so hard I almost cried is "The Return of the Prodigal Son".) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Return_of_the_Prodigal_Son_(Rembrandt)

  58. I truly believe Rembrandt's masterpiece is "The Return of the Prodigal Son", it shows his deeply changed spirituality and closeness to god towards the end of his life.

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