An enchanting and mysterious painting, starting with the title, around which a thousand stories and anecdotes revolve.
After all, each of them has a thousand stories to tell, starting with Captain Frans Banning Cocq. The son of a pharmacist, he had studied law at the prestigious faculty of Poitiers. Back home he had finalized an advantageous marriage with the daughter of a rich and very influential politician. In fact, thanks to his father-in-law, Cocq grew rapidly professionally, holding important public positions.
His lieutenant Willem van Ruytenburgh, in yellow next to him, was far from a nobody. His family had made fortunes in the spice trade and had bought an estate with several acres around it, allowing them to acquire a noble title.
The character on the extreme left sitting, in an ostentatiously heroic pose with helmet from ancient warrior and showy halberd, is Reijnier Engelen, a man who was far from heroic in real life. In fact, he was convicted of forgery because he lied about his age in a marriage contract with a girl who was much younger than himself. The rather austere figure on the far right, a man with a beard and mustache, is quite authoritative in his simple dark suit – he has his right arm stretched forward and indicates the gesture of the captain to his companion. This man is Rombout Kemp, a pillar of the community, a deacon of the Calvinist church and director of the local asylum of the poor.
So what can we say about the man in the middle in the last row, strutting along with the flag? He is Jan Claeszoon Visscher, the only child of a wealthy family, spoiled and impulsive, lots of talk and little action. As a matter of fact, he lived with his mother and grandmother and died eight years later without ever having participated in a battle.
Rembrandt, the occult director who has staged this exhibition, brings up the rear in the background, behind an officer. Below him, in the foreground, there is a little girl who appears to be made of gold. The child is not a real figure, but rather the symbol of the company or a sort of mascot. Interestingly, the claws of the chicken refer to the golden claw, the emblem of the company as well as an allusion to the surname of the captain, Cocq, while holding the green chalice of the militia drinking ceremonial.
In front of her, there is a man with his back turned towards the viewer – we see only his helmet, curiously framed with oak leaves, another allusion to the militia.
Particular light, studied in its psychological effects, emphasizes emotions and creates relationships between the figures. A good example is the beam of grazing light that cuts across the picture and illuminates the three main figures: the lieutenant, the captain and the child.
Superb use of color plays on the contrast of red and yellow. On the left a man who is cleaning the arquebusier dressed in red precedes the golden child, while on the right the yellow lieutenant stands out in front of another dark red arquebusier. An extraordinary note is found in the captain with the red band that stands out on the black of his uniform. With this figure, Rembrandt manages to subvert the pictorial rules according to which light colors tend to emerge on dark colors that move backwards. Instead, in his work the captain’s black suit not only makes the figure more imposing and authoritative than the frivolous canary yellow of the lieutenant, but rather it places him in a situation of precedence.