14 December 2021

Drawings found under Rembrandt’s “The Night Watch”


Rembrandt, The Night Watch (1642) Rijksmuseum.

Conservators have found preliminary sketches while cleaning Rembrandt’s The Night Watch. The sketches are visible in a “calcium map” created by the Rijksmuseum’s conservators.

Conservation lab of the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, Calcium Map of The Night Watch by Rembrandt. A sketch is visible in the upper portion of the painting.

The Rijksmuseum’s conservators used Macro-XRF scanning to uncover the sketches. Many art historians, including the eminent Rembrandt authority Ernst van de Wetering writing in the Rembrandt Corpus, believed that Rembrandt did not use preliminary drawings for his paintings, or even his etchings. In addition, they used Fiber Optic Reflectance Spectroscopy to reveal the sketches.

Conservators have been using new technology to examine The Night Watch for the past three years. They found that Rembrandt used a brown ground. Then he sketched with an off-white paint that was extremely chalky.

One of the changes uncovered is that in the sketch there were more spears. Rembrandt also had painted feathers on one of the militamen’s helmets, which were taken out in the final painting.

Rembrandt painted the names of the eighteen sitters above the gate on a shield. The painting’s actual title is: Militia Company of District II under the Command of Captain Frans Bannick Cocq and Lieutenant Willem van Ruylenhurch.

The Rijksmuseum will put The Night Watchon a new strainer in early 2022 and then decide what remediation efforts to undertake.