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Rijksmuseum reborn: Rembrandt's 'Night Watch' explained

By Bryony Jones, Nav Garcha and Ines Torre
April 12, 2013 -- Updated 1508 GMT (2308 HKT)
Image courtesy of Rijksmuseum
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Amsterdam's Rijksmuseum reopens after massive $489m, 10-year rebuilding program
  • The 'altarpiece' of the cathedral-like Gallery of Honor is Rembrandt's 'The Night Watch'
  • Curator Pieter Roelofs says the painting is 'the Dutch national treasure'

Click on the picture above to reveal the artwork's secrets.

(CNN) -- Amsterdam's Rijksmuseum, one of the world's best-known galleries, reopens April 13 after a massive 10-year rebuild.

At the heart of the "new" museum is its most treasured painting, "The Night Watch," a group portrait of one of Amsterdam's local militias, painted by Rembrandt van Rijn in 1642, at the height of the Dutch Golden Age.

Read more: Rijksmuseum reopens after 10-year refurb

Architect Pierre Cuypers designed the building around the massive masterpiece -- it measures 11 feet by 14 feet -- in 1885, and it is the only work to be returned to its original location in the radically revamped gallery.

"Everything has changed, the only thing that hasn't is 'The Night Watch'," explains Wim Pijbes, the museum's director. "It is the altarpiece of the Rijksmuseum, the whole place is arranged around this beautiful masterpiece."

Amsterdam's Rijksmuseum, home to one of the world's greatest art collections, reopens to the public on Saturday April 13, after a mammoth 10-year US$489m renovation project. The exhibits have been reorganized into chronological order, with paintings, furniture and other objects displayed side-by-side to tell the history of the Netherlands. Amsterdam's Rijksmuseum, home to one of the world's greatest art collections, reopens to the public on Saturday April 13, after a mammoth 10-year US$489m renovation project. The exhibits have been reorganized into chronological order, with paintings, furniture and other objects displayed side-by-side to tell the history of the Netherlands.
Rijksmuseum reopens after 10 years
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Rijksmuseum reopens after 10 years Rijksmuseum reopens after 10 years

Visitors will approach Rembrandt's painting through the cathedral-like entrance hall, filled with jewel-toned stained glass and extravagant wall decorations, and the restored Gallery of Honor, home to the Rijksmuseum's collection of 17th century works.

Pieter Roelofs, curator of 17th century art, told CNN the arrangement "shows off how important this painting is to the Dutch nation. It is the national treasure."

In keeping with the ethos of the new-look museum, "The Night Watch" is surrounded by other militia portraits of the era, giving the piece context but also showing just how innovative Rembrandt's work was.

And there's another hint as to just how well-loved the priceless painting is on the floor beneath it: The outline of a trap door. "The Night Watch" is the only picture in the gallery to have its own "escape slide," designed in 1934, to allow it to be swiftly moved out of danger in case of fire, or other threats.

Click on the picture above to reveal the artwork's secrets.

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