365 Days of Art: September 14 – Hitler Issues Orders to Commandeer the Vatican’s Artworks; Vandal Slashes a Rembrandt

Vatican Museum

Vatican Museum

September 14, 1943

SS General Karl Wolff, Supreme Leader of All SS Troops and Police in Italy, receives the following instructions from Hitler:

As soon as possible I want you and your troops to occupy the Vatican and Vatican City, as part of the German counter measures against this unspeakable “Badoglio treachery”, secure the Vatican’s archives and art treasures, which have a unique value, and escort the Pope (Pius XII) together with the Curia up North “for their protection”, so that they cannot fall into the hands of the Allies and under their political influence…”

The Night Watch, Rembrandt, 1642

The Night Watch, Rembrandt, 1642

September 14, 1975

An unemployed schoolteacher named Wilhelmus de Rijk walks into Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum and purposefully approaches Rembrandt’s The Night Watch. Something about him worries the security guards, so they ask him to leave. He does, but returns and slashes the painting a dozen times with a bread knife he’s stolen from his hotel the night before.

De Rijk commits suicide the following spring. The zig zag cuts in the canvas are repaired after four years of conservation though they can still be seen up close. Ironically, this isn’t the first time this painting has been attacked with a knife: in 1911 a Navy cook slashed at it. Years later, it’s also sprayed with acid. For some reason, this painting is a target for vandals.