Friday, March 13, 2009

The Night Watch

When I was a sophomore in high school, I visited Holland on a school trip. I stayed with a host family for two weeks. It was a very memorable trip as you can imagine but yesterday, as I contemplated writing and journals and well, blogs, the memory of seeing Rembrandt's "Night Watch" came flooding back to me.

There was a lot of hullaballo about us kids having the chance to actually see this piece of art in person. I had no idea why it would be important other than having the bragging rights to say I had indeed viewed the painting with my own two eyes. There was so much excitement that my host family spent a lot of time helping me gurgle Nahhhhccccckkkkt Vaaaahhhhcccckkkkt with as best a Dutch accent as I could muster.

We toured the museum. Most of us didn't understand or appreciate what we were seeing, but we bought in on the excitement of the adults. There were stories about how the painting had been stolen and damaged and returned. Or maybe someone had attempted to steal it and it was damaged in the process. I don't remember.

I think we saw the "Mona Lisa" which was surprisingly small and haunting to my 16 year old mind. And then we found ourselves crowded in a room in front of the purpose for our visit to the museum. "The Night Watch" was cordoned three feet behind red velvet ropes making the spectacle complete. I remembered we had learned about chairoscuro which is what was supposed to be so great about this particular artist and this particular piece of his work. And indeed, the small child near the foreground of the painting was absolutely brilliant and shone right out of the scene.

But what made tears come to my eyes and my mouth hang open was the size of what I saw before me. I had seen the dulled, printed version of this painting in my text books many times. It was roughly 2 inches by 3 inches. Sometimes it was slightly larger. The prose always gushed about the amazing technique and subject. But this painting is enormous. It filled the room. It was taller than myself and I could walk it's length to view the entire painting. Why was the physical magnitude of this artwork never mentioned?

I'm sure I missed whatever was the intended point of our visit. I did, however, develop a desire to see real objects in real life as much as possible. If I had the completely wrong impression of Rembrandt's masterpiece, how many other things were watered down by the text book editors? And while I do not view art with the eye of a learned critic, I've never once found myself disappointed by the original as it compared to a photo in a book. I make it a point to get out and experience life. It's so much bigger than I always imagine it to be.

***Note: I checked on the web after I typed this and discovered that an unemployed teacher slashed the painting with a bread knife. It was not stolen. Wikipedia mentioned it is also known for its colossal size (11*14 feet). ***

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