Modern Software Experience

2009-04-07

Night Watch

Rembrandt’s Night Watch is the most famous painting of the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam. It is an appropriate place for this work of art, as the people that Rembrandt painted were all Amsterdam citizen.

We have always known who the militiamen are. There is a shield with a list of eighteen names on the canvas. That shield was added later, around 1715, upon the request of the company itself.

There was just one problem; with the exception of the key figures, we did not know who was who. That problem has now been solved. We can associate the names with the figures on the canvas.

Night Watch with Names - small


Scaled down version of image that puts names to the adult faces in the Night Watch. Link to original PDF with hi-res version at the end.

Amsterdam citizens

Amsterdam aristocrats

Last year, Bas Dudok van Heel (b. 1938) presented the book Van Amsterdamse burgers to Europese aristocraten (From Amsterdam citizens to European aristocrats). Many had looked forward to this publication of approximately thousand pages. For many years already, rumours circulated that Dudok van Heel was able to show that all citizens of importance in 17th Century Amsterdam were related to each other.

important

This book was deemed so important, that Genealogie, the quarterly magazine of the Central Bureau of Genealogy, spent four of its only forty pages on it, not in the least because it was published to celebrate the 125th birthday of the Koninklijk Genootschap voor Geslacht- en Wapenkunde (Royal Society for Family and Coats of Arms), founded in 1883.

Claes Heijn Claeszn

The core of that book is the lineage of Claes Heijn Claeszn, who lived around 1400, into the middle of the 19th century. Dudok van Heel has many decades of experience researching original records as archivist of the Gemeente Archief Amsterdam (Municipal Archive of Amsterdam). This particular study was started around 1970. The had been practically ready for years. The only thing that had delayed publication all this time was that Dudok van Heel had done his research without computers.

The book is not just an lineage. The book has six chapter that discuss various facets of the Amsterdam patriciate. All of its shows a deep knowledge and understanding of the Amsterdam elite throughout the centuries.

Rembrandt

Dudok van Heel

Dudok van Heel is not only an experienced genealogist, he is also an respected Rembrandt specialist. A few years ago, he promoted on a study of the young Rembrandt in the religious and artistic life of the Dutch Republic. His reputation is such that even the Britannica article on Rembrandt refers to his publications for further reading.

The question about the identity of the militiamen on the Night Watch is one the oldest challenges in forensic genealogy. Bas Dudok van Heel decided to use his knowledge of both Amsterdam and Rembrandt to tackle the problem.

Hoenderhof

Dudok van Heel had success identifying people in paintings before. The identity of the girl in Jan Steen’s painting De Hoenderhof, dated 1660, currently in the Mauritshouse in The Hague, had long been a topic of contention. The painted building had been identified back in 1921 as castle Oud-Teijlingen near Warmond, but the identity of the girl was still unknown.

The name of the five-year old Jacoba Maria van Wassenaer had been mentioned in the past, but it was Dudok van Heel who convincingly showed it had to be her.

Night Watch militiamen

research

Bas Dudok van Heel spent years researching archives and inventories of estates to unravel the mystery of the militiamen. He researched the families, their income, their properties, their finances and business contacts. He found clothing and other items depicted in the Night Watch mentioned in inventories of estates. He collated all information with the known age of the militiamen in 1642, the year the painting was completed, and the apparent age of the figures in the painting. When he was done, he was able to link each name to a figure in the painting.

original display

Dudok van Heel’s examination of the historical context led to another discovery. It was long thought that the six paintings that had been commissioned for the great hall of the Kloveniersdoelen were not displayed as six separate paintings, but as an unbroken series of militia portraits, framed in the wooden panelling of the room, a gesamtkunstwerk.

Maria de Medici

The great hall is where they had welcomed Maria de Medici, the exiled French queen, in 1638. The painting by Van Sandraft explicitly refers to this event by posing the guardsmen of the Company of Captain Cornelis Bicker and Lieutenant Frederick van Banchem around a bust of her.

social appearance

The appearance of the militiamen reveals their social status. For example, the wealthy 28-year old musketeer Jan Brugman wore his hair fashionably long over a large lace collar and could afford an expensive musket, while the 45-year old sergeant Rombout Kemp, a devout calvinist, wore a rather old-fashioned mill-stone ruff.

drummer

Dudok van Heel did not just identify all eighteen guardsman. He also discovered that Rembrandt must have decided to make the Night Watch in 1640 already, as it still depicts Jan Clasen Leijdeckers who died that year. He also identified the previously anonymous drummer as Jacob Jorisz.

Rijksmuseum Bulletin

All these revelations are made in The Rijksmuseum Bulletin, the academic journal of the Rijksmuseum, in two separate articles; one about the original placement of the painting and one about the identification of the guardsmen.

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