The Artsy Podcast, No. 50: Why Rembrandt’s Night Watch Is So Famous

Artsy’s team of editors takes you behind the scenes of the best stories in art.

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There are certain artworks that almost everyone in the world knows—the Mona Lisa, Starry Night, The Scream. What most people can’t explain is the reason why these particular paintings are more famous than thousands of other inventive and moving works of art that fill museums worldwide.

On this special 50th episode, we chart one painting’s rise to fame: The Night Watch (1642), Rembrandt van Rijn’s 17th-century masterwork. It’s a centuries-long story that includes, among other things: a devastating bankruptcy, slanderous rumors, a swift rise to fame, and, at one point, Rembrandt’s iconic canvas slashed into ribbons.

To help us answer this question, we enlisted the help of a slew of experts: Rijksmuseum curator Pieter Roelofs, author Derek Thompson, Queen’s University professor Stephanie Dickey, executive vice president of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Mariët Westermann, and artist Stefan Kasper.

This podcast is hosted by Artsy Associate Editor Isaac Kaplan and Editorial Associate Abigail Cain. It was produced by Abigail Cain.

Intro music: “Something Elated” by Broke For Free. Additional music, in order of appearance: “Readers! Do You Read?” by Chris Zabriskie; “The Last Ones” by Jahzzar; “As Colorful as Ever” by Broke for Free

Cover image: Pieter Roelofs at the Rijkmuseum in front of Rembrandt’s The Night Watch. Courtesy of the Rijkmuseum.