« Beleef de Nachtwacht

Who is Who?

Last published 2021-07-14T23:22:44.578Z

An interactive masterpiece

1. Frans Banninck Cocq

A closer look at the Nightwatch’s shield reveals that the name Frans Banningh Cocq is listed. However, Banningh Cock may have been a famous Amsterdam governor, but he is not the man in the painting. The fact that his name was misspelled led to a case of mistaken identity, because the captain depicted in the painting is actually Frans Banninck Cocq.

At birth, the future captain was given the same name as his grandfather: Frans Banninck – a well-known Amsterdam governor, who died at an early age and would therefore never become one of the city’s burgomasters (mayors). By naming little Frans after his grandfather, to all intents and purposes his parents secured him a future position as an Amsterdam burgomaster.

Setting himself up for a future career, he registers at a law school in France. When he obtains his law degree, Banninck Cocq is still in his early twenties. In order to find himself a suitable marriage partner, he returns to Amsterdam. There he meets Maria Overlander van Purmerland, eldest daughter of the wealthy burgomaster Volkert Overlander. Marrying her therefore turns out to be a clever strategic move, as it opens doors for Frans Banninck Cocq to reach the highest positions in the city government.

From commissioner of marital affairs to alderman: from 1632 onwards, each year Banninck Cocq manages to hold a high governmental position. By the year 1650, his efforts are rewarded with obtaining the position that had proved elusive to his grandfather: burgomaster of Amsterdam.

2. Willem van Ruytenburch

Son of a trader in Oriental products, Willem is born into a humble, but prosperous family. In 1606, his father has a house built at Oudezijds Achterburgwal. After dubbing the new building ‘Ruytenburch’, the family decides to adopt the posh-sounding name as their family name. In 1611, his father adds to the title by purchasing the rights to become lord of Vlaardingen and Vlaardingen-Ambacht.

After his father’s death, Willem inherits the title and the mansion that comes with it. Fabricated though his name may have been, Willem van Ruytenburch van Vlaardingen wears it proudly. Still not satisfied, he sets his ambitions even higher. In 1632, he persuades an elderly woman to falsely swear before a court of law that Willem’s ancestors came from the Brabant village of Budel and were of noble blood.

A couple of years later, Van Ruytenburch is appointed alderman of the city of Amsterdam and lieutenant in Frans Banninck Cocq’s company, but that still would not make him a man of stature. After all, despite having insinuated himself into nobility, he was not in any way related to the city’s ruling families. In 1647 he leaves Amsterdam, never to return, moving to The Hague and later Vlaardingen. This is where he would die in 1652, oblivious of the fact that centuries later he would gather the fame he had always craved, now as ‘the man dressed in yellow’.

3. Jan Adriaensen Keijser

There are no official sources to verify that, in 1642, Jan Adriaensen Keijser would have been captain of arms within the company. And yet he is included in the Nightwatch, holding a typical two-handed sword that rests on the ground. It is highly unlikely that a person would have been portrayed in a position he doesn’t actually hold, so we can safely assume that the Nightwatch is the only real evidence confirming his rank. His was an important position, being responsible for maintaining and storing the militia’s weaponry.

Jan Adriaensen Keijser, a well-established wine merchant, builds close relationships within the militia. By 1654, is Frans Banninck Cocq has meanwhile become burgomaster of Amsterdam and governor of the so-called Handboogdoelen. He appoints Adriaensen Keijser as steward of this longbow shooting range. His knowledge of wines will undoubtedly have stood him in good stead.

4. Jan van der Heede

Jan van der Heede may have come from the village of Driebruggen, but he is certainly not left to his own devices when moving to Amsterdam in the 1630s: He has several family members working in the Amsterdam trade that could set him up locally. Following in their footsteps, in 1635 he co-signs a contract with Gijsbert Lambertszn Schouten. They both invest 8,000 guilders in a grocery business they will run from a shared residence. For eight years, the men work out of this house at Zoutsteeg. When, eight years later, their contract fails to be renewed, Jan van der Heede continues the business on his own.

By 1642, Van der Heede, who has meanwhile joined the militia as a musketeer, is still a single man. French fashion rules dictate that bachelors should wear bright-coloured attire, which explains why Van der Heede is dressed in red. One year after the Nightwatch’s completion, the musketeer would marry after all. From that moment on, most likely he will have gone about wearing mostly black.

5. Reijnier Engelen

Little is known about Reijnier Engelen, cloth merchant and sergeant with the militia. Engelen wasn’t born to live a life in the Amsterdam spotlights. His father was a syndic with the draper´s guild, but Engelen would not follow his example. The fact that in 1624 he was fined for selling undersized cloth may well have played a part - it most certainly will not have helped his reputation. Rather than earning his leading position as sergeant within the militia through extraordinary achievements, he probably owed this rank to his advanced age. Not long after the completion of the Nightwatch, Engelen moved to District III, leaving the militia with a job opening for a new sergeant.

6. Jan Pietersen Bronckhorst

Jan Pietersen Bronckhorst is an ambitious man who manages to work his way up from a humble sheep shearer to a cloth merchant - but that is not the reason why we still know him today. His name turns up regularly in Amsterdam archives. Thanks to his now famous statement about payments concerning the Nightwatch, we know that sixteen militia members from District II paid around one hundred guilders to Rembrandt to be included in the painting. “Some paid slightly more, others a bit less, depending on their position in the painting”, comments Jan Pietersen Bronckhorst, himself holding one of the least prominent positions in the painting.

7. Harman Jacobsen Wormskerck

Deventer-born Harman Jacobsen Wormskerck is a cloth merchant, a syndic of the clothmakers guild and shield bearer in District II’s militia company. He is also a wealthy man – wealthy to the point where he can afford to retire at the age of 51. In 1642, the year in which the Nightwatch is completed, the retiree moves to Herengracht. He is so grateful to God for his amassed wealth that he names his new home ‘Soli Deo Gloria’ – glory to God alone. Upon his death, in 1653, Harman Jacobsen Wormskerck’s estate is valued at more than 370,000 guilders. A fortune many contemporaries could only dream of owning, which would still hold true today.

8. Elbert Willemsen

Elbert Willemsen is born on Nieuwendijk, in his grandfather’s house. It carries the name ‘De Vergulde Engel’ (The Guilded Angel). But when his father becomes the new owner, after Elbert’s birth, he renames the house to ‘De drie vergulde Stockvissen’ (The Three Guilded Stock Fishes). An aptly chosen name, considering that for generations the men have earned their trade as merchants and fish mongers. Elbert also follows in his ancestor’s footsteps and becomes a merchant. When, in 1644, he dies, he leaves the business to his children. It is valued at 90,000 guilders, a staggering amount of money at the time.

9. Jan Visscher Cornelisen

It’s a tall order becoming a standard-bearer with the militia. As well as coming from a wealthy family, you need to be single. After all, it is the standard-bearer who is in the front line during battle. So if he dies, at least he will not leave a mourning wife and children.

In 1637, Jan Visscher Cornelisen – both wealthy and single - is appointed standard-bearer in the company. He is described as a well-educated merchant with an inquisitive mind and a broad interest. Moreover, he owns a large collection of books, paintings and drawings. His shining reputation makes Cornelisen the perfect militia’s ‘golden boy’, which we quite literally see reflected in his highlighted position in the Nightwatch.

10. Jan Claesen Leijdeckers

In 1642, when Rembrandt completed the Nightwatch, Jan Claesen Leijdeckers had already been dead two years. Consequently, the artist must have based Leijdecker’ portrait on a print by Jacques de Gheyn, who also painted a man carrying a musket. This piece of information tells us that Rembrandt was already working on the Nightwatch in 1640. Indeed, Jan Claesen Leijdeckers must have paid to be included in the painting before he died.

We do not know what line of work Jan Claesen Leijdeckers was in during his lifetime, but he probably was a cloth merchant, just like his brother Willem. Financial setbacks, however, forced him to borrow large amounts of money, only putting him deeper in debt. Upon his death, his wife Maria is left with two children and the massive debts run up by her husband.

11. Claes van Cruijsbergen

Born a grandson of two high-ranking city governors, Claes van Cruijsbergen has a bright and promising future ahead. His grandfather on his mother’s side had served as a captain in District III for decades, and he was also a syndic of the draper´s guild. Claes van Cruijsbergen, however, would choose a different career path, earning his keep as a grocery merchant and trader. Within the militia he is a shield bearer, protecting the flag with his shield. This explains why in the Nightwatch he is shown standing next to standard-bearer Jan Visscher Cornelisen.

A statement made by Claes van Cruijsbergen in 1659 tells us that Rembrandt received at least 1600 guilders for painting the Nightwatch. Historian Dudok van Heel suggests that captain Banninck Cocq and lieutenant Van Ruytenburch may have added five hundred guilders each.

12. Jan Ockersen

The name Ockersen will ring a bell with many a historian. This is because, in 1566, the Ockersen family got involved in a notorious incident. Iconoclasm was raging through Dutch churches, with frenzied mobs leaving a trail of devastation. On 22 August, the sister of Jan Ockersen’s grandmother joins in the attack on the Old Church. While her maid is throwing down candlesticks and statues, Weijn Adriaen Ockersdochter hurls her shoe through the glass of the altar. This violation of an image of the Virgin Mary caused such an outrage that centuries later it would still be used by artists to illustrate this iconoclastic episode. Weijn Adriean Ockersdochter, however, would not find much clemency, let alone fame. In 1568, she is arrested, questioned and tortured. Soon afterwards, she will even pay with her life for her crime, as she is drowned in a wine barrel filled with water on Dam Square.

Jan’s name therefore has a familiar and perhaps notorious ring to it. Yet this would not deter him from carving out a career in the cloth-making industry. Seven times, he acts as syndic for the draper´s guild. After the Amsterdam districts have been reorganised, he leaves Banninck Cocq’s militia to become a lieutenant in District XXI (21).

13. Walich Schellingwou

Walich Schellingwou is born into a family of wealthy cloth merchants, which has traded for generations from its Nieuwendijk residence in Amsterdam. Breaking with family tradition, Walich becomes a wine merchant, but other than that he follows in his father’s footsteps by joining Frans Banninck Cocq’s company. A contemporary home inventory tells us that Walich owned a pike. This confirms his rank of pike bearer, as we see him portrayed in the Nightwatch. A couple of years after the Nightwatch’s completion, business is thriving and the family decides to move to the prestigious Herengracht. Here, Walich dies in 1653. In 1772, a portrait of him is presented to Russian tsarina Catherina the Great. She believes to have purchased a genuine Rembrandt, but soon afterwards the signature on the painting turns out to be a forgery.

14. Barent Harmansen Bolhamer

There is an element of mystery surrounding Barent Harmansen Bolhamer. In 1616, he buys a house on Nieuwezijds Voorburgwal, where he starts living with his sister. In 1635, the two move house once again, and they would stay together until Barent’s dying day. It has been documented that he never married or fathered children. And yet, shortly after his death one Alida Bolhamer turns up, claiming she is the sole legal heir to Barent’s estate. She may have been the grocer’s illegitimate daughter, but no proof has ever been found to support this. It is quite conceivable that she was a lot older than she claimed to be, and actually was Barent’s sister.

15. Rombout Kemp

At the time when the Nightwatch is being painted, Rombout, eldest son in the Kemp family, enjoys a reputation as a civilised, well-educated man. This becomes evident from the fact that, in 1641, his mother leaves him a collection of books in Latin as well as their family home. In the Nightwatch, Rembrandt emphasises Kemp’s reputation - his dynamic posture and old-fashioned clothes certainly catch the eye.

In 1623, Rombout marries Elsje van Baersdorp, a young woman whose family is part of Leiden’s reigning elite and has ties with the Amsterdam government. And yet textile merchant Rombout Kelp never held a high office in the Amsterdam city council. Still, he is appointed governor of the Nieuwezijds Huiszittenhuis, a charitable institution for the poor, and earns himself a reputation as syndic of the draper´s guild.

Though lacking influential connections within the city government, Rombout Kemp manages to secure an important position as sergeant within Banninck Cocq’s militia. In 1646, he even succeeds Willem van Ruytenburch as company lieutenant. After the death of standard bearer Jan Cornelisen Visscher, Rombout’s son Artus takes over his position: ample proof that Rombout Kemp was a highly respected man.

16. Paulus Schoonhoven

In 1616, Goes-born Paulus Schoonhoven moves to Amsterdam for an apprenticeship with his uncle. Just turned twenty, he trains to become an estate agent. In 1623, he joins the realtors’ guild, embarking on a career in the property business that will cover more than half a century. In the early days of his career, he keeps moving from one rental home to another. Finally, in 1639, he buys himself a house on Roowaensche Kaey, which was part of the Singel canal. His new residence is located in District II, which is also captain Banninck Cocq’s remit. Paulus Schoonhoven joins the militia as a pike bearer.

17. Jacob Jorisz

The man with the drum, Jacob Jorisz, is the only one whose name is not listed in the shield. A humble tambour, he earns a meagre forty guilders a year. He therefore wouldn’t have been able to afford the hundred guilders needed to be included in Rembrandt’s painting - and yet, here he is. Rembrandt must have used him as a device to add even more dynamics to the composition. By including drummer boy Jacob Jorisz, Rembrandt introduces a new element into the painting: sound.

18. The girls

The girl in the beautifully decorated dress is certainly one of the most striking figures in the painting. Our eyes are automatically drawn to the girl, which is bathed in light. And yet this radiant girl is not alone – behind her is another girl. Her face we cannot see, but we do catch a glimpse of her blue dress.

Few people will have noticed this second girl, but the significance of the girl at the front also used to be shrouded in mystery. Some believed it was Rembrandt’s deceased wife Saskia, others thought she might actually be an angel: after all, she is enveloped in a kind of hazy mist. For a long time, the theory held sway that the two girls were the daughters of Jacob Nachtglas, overseer of the Kloveniersdoelen. We know now there is no truth to any of these theories.

In fact, the girl at the back is holding a hot pan that gives off clouds of steam. The steam envelops the girl at the front, turning her into an angelic figure. She does have any traceable identity - she is Rembrandt’s invention, symbolising the Kloveniers, this particular civic militia. Her striking features and the symbols woven into the design of the dress mark her out as the painting’s mascot.