Today in Overlooked History: Rembrandt’s The Night Watch Attacked With Bread Knife
On this day in 1975, an unemployed schoolteacher named Wilhelmus de Rijk walked into Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum and headed straight for Rembrandt’s The Night Watch. He stood in front of the painting, looking creepy, until the guards-modern versions of the people in Rembrandt’s painting- got scared and asked him to leave. At which point De Rijk walked out of the room, walked back in, and attacked the painting with a bread knife that he had stolen from his hotel’s room service.
De Rijk was a large man, and he managed to hold the museum guards off long enough to slash the painting more than a dozen times while shouting, by way of apology, “I have been sent by the Lord! I have been forced to do this by forces out of this Earth!”
The guards finally wrestled De Rijk to the ground, and he was later committed to a mental home by the magistrate, who apparently rejected God’s role in attacking the national treasure. De Rijk later committed suicide. After a four-year restoration process, the painting went back up, this time under permanent guard. Which was lucky, because it meant that when, in 1990, another Dutchman sprayed acid on the painting from a concealed bottle, the guards were able to douse the painting with water quickly enough to avoid permanent damage.
De Rijk wasn’t the first person to attack The Night Watch. He wasn’t even the first Dutch person. Or the first to do it with a knife. That distinction went to “a discharged naval cook named Sigrist,” who, we are told in a gnomically worded 1911 New York Times article, “with a knife deliberately slashed the masterpiece,” apparently as revenge for his discharge from the navy.
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