Who is depicted in The Night Watch?

The original Night Watch featured thirty-four figures. After the move to the Palace on Dam Square, a strip on the left-hand side showing three figures was cut away. The names of eighteen people in the painting are known; around 1650 an unknown painter added a shield with eighteen names to the gatehouse in the background. In 2009, former city archivist S.A.C. Dudok van Heel reconstructed as accurately as possible who is depicted and what their professions were. 

Wealthy archers

Almost all of the eighteen known archers lived in burgerwijk II, near the Nieuwe Kerk, and were wealthy or extremely affluent. They were active in the cloth trade, wine trade or brokerage. The standard-bearer had a capital of about 2,000 guilders; the most wealthy (Kemp, Brughman and Bronchorst) even owned a capital of about 200,000 guilders. Musketeer Leijdeckers is an exception; he died on 20 December 1640 and left behind large debts. Since Leijdeckers was buried at the end of 1640 and musketeer Van der Heede only became a citizen of Amsterdam in 1641 (and therefore could never have been a member of the militia), it can be concluded that the depicted militia did not pose for Rembrandt at the same time. The archers each had to pay Rembrandt about 100 guilders, with the price varying according to placement in the painting. It is striking that 16 characters are only partly visible, and have remained anonymous. They must have paid Rembrandt little or nothing. This feature is quite unusual for a militia painting.

The Captain 

Captain Frans Banninck Cocq (1605-1655) was initially lieutenant of the Wijk I company, but in 1639 he succeeded Pieter Reael (1569-1643) as captain of the Wijk II company. 

The Lieutenant

Willem van Ruytenburgh (1600-1655) succeeded Gerbrand Claesz. Pancras (1591-1649) as lieutenant in 1639. In that year, Pancras was appointed mayor of Amsterdam. The lieutenant is actually dressed more conspicuously than his captain. 

The Ensign 

Jan Cornelisz. Visscher (1610-1650) wears the marksman’s banner. In the militia, the ensign had to be of well-to-do family background, but also had to be a bachelor. As a rule, the ensign walked ahead of the troops. 

The Sergeants

Rembrandt painted two company sergeants symmetrically on the left and right. Reijer Jansz. Engelen (1588-1651) is seated on the left on a wall (fig.). 

The Musketeers

A cleaver’s army had several men who were armed with muskets. Six musketeers are depicted in The Night Watch. Originally, there were seven, but musketeer and cloth merchant Jan Brughman (1614-1652) was depicted in the part of the painting that was cut away in 1715.

The Rondassiers

Rondassiers were equipped with a shield and had the task of protecting the lightly armed ensign. Three have been identified in The Night Watch: Jan Pietersz. Bronckhorst (1587-after 1666), Harman Jacobsz. And Wormskerck (1590-1653) 

The Piquiers and the Lancer

Three piquiers in The Night Watch could be identified. On the far right is piquier Paulus Harmensz. On the right behind musketeer Leijdeckers is peekeeper Barent Harmensz and Walich van Schellingwou (1613-1653)

The Daptain d’Armes and the Drummer 

The man visible in the background between Banninck Cocq and Van Ruytenburgh is Captain d’Armes Jan Adriaensz. Keijser (1594-1664).  The drummer, Jacob Jorisz. (1591-after 1646), was often hired for special occasions and did not belong to the company. He too is wearing dated clothing.


Other figures

A striking figure that seems to have been specially highlighted is the female figure to the left of Banninck Cocq. She is dressed in a brocade dress with a shoulder-length cloak. The young woman is reminiscent of a ’zoetelaarster’, a female merchant who accompanied the army to sell merchandise. She is armed with a pistol and carries a chicken around her waist, hanging upside down from her legs. This character can be understood more as a symbolic figure, a personification of the cleavers’ guild, because the claws of the chicken refer to the golden claw, the emblem of the guild, and the pistol to the militia. Another anonymous girl in blue is vaguely visible behind her back. The gunpowder boy, with the far too large helmet and the powder horn, and the street dog serve as furnishings, as do the anonymous members of the militia who are partly visible between the figures.


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