Opinion

Actors Restage Rembrandt’s “Night Watch” in Mall

Reenactors in the mall (Screencapture by Hyperallergic from The Guardian)
Reenactors in the mall (Screencapture by Hyperallergic from The Guardian)

A thief in a garish feathered hat runs out of a shopping mall store with a leather bag clutched in his hand. He jumps down the stairs and tries desperately to escape as ropes descend down the mall’s atrium. Guards emerge to catch the criminal — but they’re on horseback, dressed in brimmed caps, and decked out with ruffled collars. A regiment of guards on foot marches toward the thief with halberds outstretched. After they catch the would-be escapee, a frame falls from the ceiling of the mall and brackets a view of proud policemen: This is Rembrandt’s “The Night Watch.”

"The Night Watch" in the renovated Rijksmuseum (Image via Holland.com)
“The Night Watch” in the renovated Rijksmuseum (Image via Holland.com)

A group of Dutch actors staged this real-life version of Rembrandt’s iconic painting of 1642, which depicts a company led by Captain Frans Banning Cocq, in an Amsterdam mall, using the central space as a theatrical set for the drama of the canvas. The reenactment, documented in the video below, celebrates the reopening of Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum, which just launched its new space after a decade-long renovation. The renovation restores “The Night Watch” to its central location; it’s the only object in the museum that stayed in the exact same place, reports the Associated Press.



Echoed by the shopping mall 17th-century flash-mob stunt, the painting shows a phalanx of armed men posing proudly as a group. Stretching almost 12 feet by 14.5 feet, the canvas itself is massive. It was completed at the height of the Dutch Golden Age, when group portraiture was a popular method of showing social and political stature. One of Rembrandt’s many innovations in the piece was to capture the crew with a sense of arrested motion — rather than acting as an austere, static portrait, the painting shows each figure in the process of completing an action: pointing a spear, cleaning a gun, or gesturing in the act of speech. The theatrics of actual actors running around in imitation of his dramatic painting would doubtless make the artist proud. Now where’s the Caravaggio reenactment?

"The Night Watch" by Rembrandt (1642) (Image via wikipedia.org)
“The Night Watch” by Rembrandt (1642) (Image via wikipedia.org)
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