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Painting: Rembrandt's "Ronde de nuit", a disconcerting military parade

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"The Company of Frans Banning Cocq and Willem van Ruytenburch" or "Ronde de nuit" (1642), of Rembrandt. Electa / Leemage

Rembrandt did not paint The Night Watch. He painted in 1642 The Company of Frans Banning Cocq and Willem van Ruytenburch, order signed in 1640 for 1,600 florins. The painting is destined for the Kloveniersdoelen, the seat of the military companies formed by the citizens of Amsterdam. He remained there until his transfer in 1715 in a small room of the city hall, so small that it was then cut off from several centimeter strips on the edges, until it was At its current dimensions – 363 centimeters high, 437 wide.

Amputated, he also suffered from his rapid yellowing under the layers of varnish, noticeable from the XVIIIe century. It is then that he gets the nickname of Night round, while the scene is diurnal. Efforts to clear it up have followed since and continue: the Amsterdam Rijksmuseum, which has been preserving it since 1885, has embarked, on 8 July, on an impressive restoration campaign which prides itself on being the most scientific ever undertaken, helping digital technologies.

To have their heads there, the guards in the background only pay 100 guilders each, but those who want to be in the light pay much higher sums.

No doubt the physical knowledge of the painting will be improved. For its meaning, it is less safe. The Night Watch has two contradictory characteristics: some of its details are precisely known and others remain unexplained.

We know the circumstances of the order. We know that the members of the company must contribute to its financing. To have their heads there, the guards in the background pay only 100 guilders each, but those who want to be in the light pay much higher sums. Frans Banning Cocq, wealthy lawyer and captain of the militia, is in the center, the breast barred with a crimson scarf. Beside him, all gold and silver, parade Willem Van Ruytenburgh, dynasty of traders. The keeper Jan Claeszoon Visscher admires his martial presence, left fist on the hip.

The cloth merchant and sergeant Rombout Kemp is no less prominent, outstretched hand, snowy lace strawberry. Against money, Rembrandt puts them in value. He multiplies the signs of their strength. Long spikes intertwine, the metal helmets and halberts throw reflections, a musketeer all the more visible that it is in the foreground and dressed in squirrel loading his weapon, the drum calls for walking. One can not doubt either the excellence of the armament, or the warlike ardor of these brave men, even though they are only guilty of disguised bourgeois. Faced with reerts of profession, as there are so many at the time, they would not keep a quarter of an hour, but to impress their fellow citizens, these accoutrements are suffused enough.

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