Art: Night Watch

The big burghers, with their starched ruffs, plump cheeks and fierce little beards, annoyed Rembrandt. They paid through the nose for his fine likenesses. Rembrandt had other ambitions than painting portraits: he was obsessed with a desire to portray light. When a Captain Banning Cocq went to him with a 1,600-florin (about $650) group portrait commission, Rembrandt pocketed the fee, and set about painting light, not likenesses.

Cocq captained a company of 17 merchants who were amateur warriors on the side. What they wanted was to see themselves in uniform hanging over the clubhouse mantel. What they got was a huge canvas...

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