The Dutch Civic Guardsmen had the primary purpose of defending their cities (guarding gates, policing streets, putting out fires, imposing order during parades and other parades, and generally maintaining civic order). Each company had its individual guild hall, and they had the ability to practice with the particular weapon associated with that specific group (a crossbow, a longbow or a firearm), in their own shooting range. In this context, various of these group portraits of the numerous militia companies were commissioned to decorate the new assembly hall of their headquarters; this was a common type of painting, which also served as an acknowledgment of their most distinguished members. It is unknown if this particular exuberant commission was part of the enthusiasm and extravagances associated with the entrance of Marie de’ Medici, the French Queen Mother, into Amsterdam in 1638, or if it was merely to commemorate the new space. Adding to the various group portraits assigned to six different painters, above the mantle was to be placed a portrait of the different senior officers. Overall, these group portraits helped shape the sense of pride of a city, asserting power, prominence, individuality and further added to the collective civic duty. Captain Frans Banning Cocq’s company was attributed to Rembrandt. Making Captain Cocq and Lieutenant Willem van Ruytenburgh, the central elements of the picture, Rembrandt also painted sixteen other militiamen who each paid an approximate sum of a hundred guilders, more or less, depending on the prominence within the picture.
… assumes a central role in the composition, standing in the middle and in the foreground; his clothing indicates his upper class social status (collar) and his ranking in the militia group (baton). Dressed in black with a lace collar and a bright red sash, the captain also carries a baton on his hand and a rapier (a thin, long and light sword) on his waist. As he walks forward, he is looking at his left and extends his arm forward, as he engages in a conversation with his lieutenant, Willem van Ruytenburgh.
… the lieutenant, walks alongside his captain, as he devotional looks at his superior, acknowledging his orders. Dressed extravagantly in bright golden yellow, his ranking is established by the steel gorget around his neck and the spear he is holding in his left hand (known as a ceremonial partisan).
… the remaining members, are scattered throughout the composition, wearing pieces of armour, big hats or helmets, holding spears and firearms, as their names are inscribed on a shield hanging above a big archway. At the left side, one member raises the guild banner high, while the others at the far right raise their pikes.
… are included by Rembrandt to make the composition more dynamic, and to better hint the size of the larger company as a whole. Men were added to the background, with only partially visible faces, in order to increase their number, while a dog barks at the drummer’s feet at the right. In addition, a young girl in a luxurious dress can be seen close to the center, quite illuminated in contrast with what is in her premises, and another young boy appears at the far left, holding a powder horn rushes to gather more of it for the musketeers.
A vast range of weaponry can be seen in the painting, however, the most noticeable is the musket, which is also the official weapon of the Kloveniers company. Behind the two leading men, three of the five musketeers are given a more prominent spot in the composition. At the left, one in red garments inserts powder in the muzzle of his weapon. The man behind the lieutenant blows off the residual powder, clearing the pan, as the smaller man next to him at the left, wearing a helmet embellished with oak leaves, fires his weapon to the right side. With these three figures, the artist illustrates each step of the handling of the musket, which indicates his fascination about weaponry around that time.