Art Historical Humor

Despite reports to the contrary, art historians can be funny, that’s why this post is dedicated to “Art Historical Humor.” Sure, our jokes are nerdy to the point of embarrassment and potentially oblique (in other words, not funny to anyone else), but we try.

One of my favorite instances of art historical jocularity came about two weeks ago, when Amsterdam celebrated the reopening of the Rijksmuseum, a Dutch national treasure whose main building had been closed for ten years due to a major renovation. The reopening of the museum was celebrated throughout Europe, and art and architecture critics have hailed it as a vast improvement.

In order to publicize the museum’s rebirth, the museum staff called upon a modern phenomenon – the flashmob – combining tradition and the new age with singular style. Taking place in a popular shopping mall, staff members recreated one of the museum’s most well known and beloved paintings, Rembrandt van Rijn’s Night Watch.

rembrandt night watch

rembrandt night watch painting

Widely considered to be Rembrandt’s masterpiece, the 1642 oil on canvas measures approximately 12 by 14 feet, and is one of the finest examples of Rembrandt’s mastery of chiaroscuro. The eponymous night watch is led by Captain Frans Banning Cocq (the central figure, marked by a red sash) and Lieutenant Willem van Ruytenburch (in yellow), accompanied by a cast of characters, all of whom are portrayed in the flashmob recreation.

See? What did I tell you? Our humor is top-notch.

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