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.”
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?