The year was 1639, and Rembrandt was 33 years old. While he was still a young man, he was in his prime. For over a decade, he had been receiving important commissions from Constantihn Huyygens.. It was through this connection that Prince Frederik Hendrik purchased Rembrandt’s work. He had moved to Amsterdam, married, and was living it up. Why not? He was clearly a man of genius!
Rembandt’s life in Amsterdam was, shall we say, exuberant. He bought an expensive house , and with his commissions, he should have been able to pay off the mortgage.
Rembrandt lived beyond his means, buying art (including bidding up his own work), prints (often used in his paintings) and rarities, which probably caused a court arrangement to avoid his bankruptcy in 1656, by selling most of his paintings and large collection of antiquities. The sale list survives and gives us a good insight into Rembrandt’s collections, which, apart from Old Master paintings and drawings, included busts of the Roman Emperors, suits of Japanese armor among many objects from Asia, and collections of natural history and minerals.
This would not end well.
But in the year 1639, the dark days were yet to come. And Rembrandt received a commission for a grand painting.
The painting was commissioned (around 1639) by Captain Banning Cocq and seventeen members of his Kloveniers (civic militia guards). Eighteen names appear on a shield, painted circa 1715, in the centre right background, as the hired drummer was added to the painting for free. A total of 34 characters appear in the painting. Rembrandt was paid 1,600 guilders for the painting (each person paid one hundred), a large sum at the time. This was one of a series of seven similar paintings of the militiamen (Dutch: Schuttersstuk) commissioned during that time from various artists.
Rembrandt decided to create an epic work. It would become known as The Night Watch, one of the greatest works of art in modern history (I use the word modern here broadly).
Here is an image that shows you the composition
The thing is that to fully appreciate The Night Watch, you need to see it in person. It is massive. This can be arranged, as the painting hands in Amsterdam in the Rijksmuseum. And just now, you can enjoy the painting, as well as watch experts working on its restoration.
A reason to go to Amsterdam? Perhaps! And if you do, you might consider staying at the Pulitzer.
Peter Pulitzer—yes, of the American Pulitzers, who are of Dutch descent—started Amsterdam’s habit of cobbling 300-year-old townhouses into larger lodging properties. He founded the Pulitzer in 1970. One could argue, as the hotel does, that the Pulitzer was the world’s first boutique hotel, before that became the overused grab-bag concept that it now is. Nearly fifty years on, the result is a grand hotel made from twenty-five contiguous canalhouses. The Pulitzer even has its own salon-launch, the Tourist, for daily cocktail-hour canal tours. The noble launch, which once numbered Winston Churchill among its passengers, can be privately booked for dinners aboard. Do that.
Yes, these are luxury treats. But does one approach the great Rembrandt on a skimpy budget? Live large!
Sign me up!