Saturday, January 24, 2015

The Night Watch...and Ultrarunning

The bride and I traveled to Europe in October, and were fortunate enough to be able to spend 3 days in Amsterdam, Kingdom of the Netherlands (the official name for what the world knows unofficially as Holland).

While there we had some delightful time in the city's wonderful museums, to include the Rijksmuseum.  Perhaps the museum's most famous piece of art is the magnificent The Night Watch, by Rembrandt.

Here is The Night Watch from the Kahn Academy site.  It's huge, some 12' x 14':

And below is The Night Watch in a tourist's photo, showing some of the visitors in the foreground.  Evidently this photo has made the rounds on the Internet, but I saw it at the blog Gin and Tacos:

I am guilty of a similar offense to what the girls are doing above.  They are right there, in front of one of the finest paintings ever created on this planet...yet have their noses buried in their phones.

My story?  We went to the Rijksmuseum on a Sunday--in fact, it was the very day of the Amsterdam Marathon and we had a tough time navigating, what with rolling closures of streets and transit across various sections of the city.  At length we found ourselves across the street from the museum, but it was a major street and the marathoners were pouring through along it.  Impenetrable mass of runners'  bodies, plus barrier fencing.

But...those imaginative Dutch!  There was a traffic island in the center of this boulevard.  So as the runners approached the island, course officials blocked the near side, shunting runners over to the left side--and importantly for us pedestrians--allowing us to reach the traffic island in the center.

You can imagine the next move.  The course officials then blocked the left side, funneling runners back onto the right side...and allowing the pedestrians to exit from the island in the middle across the left side of the boulevard to reach the museum.  Repeat every 10 minutes.

As my friend Steve likes to say, "A low-tech solution to a high-tech problem."  By the way, I looked at the marathoners and thought, "These people look pretty beat," estimating that they must have been around Mile 20 or so. was Mile 5, and what I took for fatigue was just focus and concentration.  

I have not run an official marathon race since Harrisburg, PA in 1993, when I wanted to proved to myself that I was healed from knee surgery resulting from a toboggan accident (I succeeded).  Though I must say that in the ensuing 21 years I have covered the marathon distance too many times to count in 50 mile and 100 mile trail races and in training when I'm having a casual conversation about running with someone new and they ask how many marathons I have run, the answer requires some 'splaining.  

Anyway, back to the the museum.  We found ourselves in the big room with The Night Watch dominating one entire wall.  Since it was the weekend, the museum was crowded and I found it hard to get close.  I became focused upon taking some photos of the painting over the heads of the crowd, while trying to move closer.  Finally my turn came to get to the front row and I confess that I still was in photography mode.

Rather than just stand there in jaw-dropping admiration, I fiddled with my camera and lost the opportunity to immerse myself in the presence of great art.  It was only later that I realized that I didn't really look at The Night Watch; my experience was largely vicarious and electronic rather than personal.  At the time it seemed like no big deal, but in hindsight I wished I had never carried the camera in there.  I should just have enjoyed the painting.


Lesson learned for the next art museum we experience.
If you wish to read more of the painting's history, etc., check this out from Wikipedia

The painting is renowned for three characteristics: its colossal size (363 cm × 437 cm (11.91 ft × 14.34 ft)), the effective use of light and shadow (chiaroscuro), and the perception of motion in what would have traditionally been a static military portrait.
The painting was completed in 1642, at the peak of the Dutch Golden Age. It depicts the eponymous company moving out, led by Captain Frans Banning Cocq (dressed in black, with a red sash) and his lieutenant, Willem van Ruytenburch (dressed in yellow, with a white sash). With effective use of sunlight and shade, Rembrandt leads the eye to the three most important characters among the crowd, the two gentlemen in the centre (from whom the painting gets its original title), and the small girl in the centre left background. Behind them, the company's colours are carried by the ensign, Jan Visscher Cornelissen.
Rembrandt has displayed the traditional emblem of the Arquebusiers in the painting in a natural way: the girl in yellow dress in the background is carrying the main symbols. She is a kind-of mascot herself: the claws of a dead chicken on her belt represent the clauweniers (arquebusiers); the pistol behind the chicken stands for 'clover'; and, she is holding the militia's goblet. The man in front of her is wearing a helmet with an oak leaf, a traditional motif of the Arquebusiers. The dead chicken is also meant to represent a defeated adversary. The colour yellow is often associated with victory.
Another interpretation proposes that Rembrandt designed this painting with several layers of meaning, as was common among the most talented artists. Thus, the Night Watch is symmetrically divided, firstly to illustrate the union between the Dutch Protestants and the Dutch Catholics, and secondly to evoke the war effort against the Spaniards. For instance, accordingly to Rembrandt's multilayered design, the taller Captain (in black) symbolizes the Dutch Protestant leadership, loyally supported by the Dutch Catholics (represented by the shorter Lieutenant, in yellow). Moreover, all characters of this painting were conceived to present double readings.

No comments:

Post a Comment