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Rembrandt Painted the Best Portrait of Freedom Ever, and Here It Is

October 11, 2019 in Economics

By Andrei Illarionov

Andrei Illarionov

This year the Cato Institute held an event artistic exhibition called “Freedom: Art as The Messenger.” Visitors could enjoy pieces specially commissioned by contemporary artists to represent what freedom means to them.


But if such an exhibition had included historical works, which piece of art would most accurately express the very idea of ​​freedom? The answer is in one of the best art museums of the world, in a country known as a home of religious toleration, commerce, and limited central government. The remarkable Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam houses Rembrandt van Rijn’s The Night Watch (1642).

Notably, The Night Watch is a group portrait.Although freedom is often perceived as an individual (personal) quality, its maintenance and protection require group efforts. Regardless of how free, talented, creative, independent, or strong an individual is, alone he or she is unable to protect his or her property and loved ones in a clash with a band of gangsters, regardless of whether those gangsters are a private enterprise or agents of a state. Collective efforts are necessary to protect personal freedom.

Secondly, it is a group portrait of people with equal legal status, which is a fundamental element of the rule of law. Until the second quarter of the 16th century, virtually all group portraits had a hierarchical structure emphasizing the top or central position on canvas of one or a few central figures—gods, apostles, saints, heroes, monarchs, or representatives of the nobility, with their companions, subordinates, assistants, or servants placed somewhere aside and below.



The new genre of group portrait was the result of a revolutionary new phenomenon at the time Rembrandt was painting. Specifically, he depicts the appearance and the strengthening of the legal equality of burghers, who were the residents of the city-states in the epoch of High Renaissance and Early modern period.

The Night Watch reminds us that freedom, rule of law, and democracyare mutually intertwined. The musketeers have commanders, but the commanders are not appointed by higher authorities—they are elected by the militia …read more

Source: OP-EDS