The lead white in The Night Watch

The pigment lead white is omnipresent in Rembrandt’s colour palette, used on its own or mixed with other pigments to obtain various hues. It was used extensively in The Night Watch.

2 Detail of the white scarf worn by lieutenant Willem Van Ruytenburch on The Night Watch.Lead white was obtained through a rather peculiar process: metallic lead stripes were suspended over vinegar in earthen jars, which were then buried under horse manure for several weeks! This led to the corrosion of the metal in the form of a bright white powder: lead white.

In Rembrandt’s time, the Dutch were so renowned all over Europe for their lead white, that this manufacture became known as the ‘Dutch process’. Rembrandt relied on both the exceptional handling as well as optical properties of lead white to achieve various pictorial effects, such as his famous impasto.