A Conversation for 'The Company of Capteyn Frans Banning Cocq' (aka 'The Night Watch') by Rembrandt

The drama of work

Post 1


Learning in more detail the context of this famous work, has suggested to me a new appreciation, drawing on my experience as a copywriter at a London ad agency. I think every copywriter is creatively frustrated, having to curb his or her creative ideas to fulfil the client's brief. Remembrant's unconvential take on such an archly convential commission dramatizes comparable tensions and conflicts, between creativity and work, the self-promotion of the artist and the self-promotion of the subjects. In my experiences these conflicts are resolved to mutual satisfaction rarely, as the work occurs in a complex of balancing forces, egos, predicted reception by the public, the desire for innovation and for clarity of message.

Remembrant has painted here more and less than the the company of Frans Banning Cocq. It strikes me as an extraordinary circumstance to be paid by 18 people. The obvious commercial response for such a commission would be to portray the 18 guards with equal prominence - no doubt what they initially expected. But Remembrandt painted almost as many characters again who paid him nothing. But the clients mightn't think this makes it better value, as the 'surplus' work diffuses the focus and even obscures some of the faces of the would-be glorified. There's no need from the composition or otherwise aesthically to snub his clients thus so wilfully. I read the gesture as Remembrandt's way of overcoming the subservient, inferior position of paid worker.

The painting thus seems quite democratic in its survey of various types of people, workers and bosses. So much is going on, but one can't say quite what. Every one in the painting seems to be doing their own thang. I get a sense of secrets, even conspiracies afoot, and the guns and weapons pointing here and there intensifies the atmosphere. It's as though he's conjuring the forces that weave through the streets of his city, a fabric held together by the threat of violence.

I reckon such an interesting work came about because of a successful client/creative relationship. It sounds like the guards weren't the dull conservative policemen I previously imagined, but that they had a wild side. I think they must've created the atmosphere of Remembrandt to push his talents. He certainly fulfilled the brief, giving this bunch publicity and prestige money just can't buy.smiley - ale

The drama of work

Post 2

Researcher 825122

smiley - smiley Yes, I agree. You certainly have a knack with words.

Most members, and certainly the officers of the five civil guards of Amsterdam (Rembrandt painted only the civil guards of the second district) were rich and powerful people. They formed a clique. They were part of what in Amsterdam was called 'Maagschappen', the ten richest families of the city whose members all intermarried with each other. Frans Banningh Cocq's wife was a sister of Cornelis Graeff first wife. Cornelis Graeff being the captain of the civil guards of another district. Roelof Bicker was a captain and so was his brother Cornelis. These companies were all painted by different artists at the same as Rembrandt painted the Night Watch with the troop of Banningh Cocq.
Becoming an officer of the civil guards meant a step forward in a political career. For instance Frans Banning Cocq became a few times Burgomaster of Amsterdam, in 1646 and 1650, like his father-in-law was many times Burgomaster as well. In 1648 Banningh Cocq was rewarded by the French king a knighthood. Don't ask me why, I do not know.
Violence? Yes, certainly. There is intrigue and conniving at gathering money, wealth, prestige and power.

The drama of work

Post 3

Researcher 825122

Oh by the way, smiley - biggrin I forgot to mention that Frans Banningh Cocq was very pleased with Rembrandt's painting. The Night Watch is a good example of a commission where artist and client are both satisfied with the result. Banningh Cocq ordered a copy of the Night Watch for himself. It was painted by Gerrit Ludens, one of Rembrandt's pupils.

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