© Cor Snabel
If you take a look at the "Nachtwacht" of Rembrandt, you see the "Schutterij", the Civic Guard of Amsterdam.
The history of the "Schutterij" goes back to 1300; The Netherlands as a state did not yet exist, cities were at war with each other, so people had to defend their properties. Count Willem IV ordered that every citizen had to have his own weapon, but most of them had no idea how to use it. The wealthy citizens formed a kind of knighthood to lead and train this "army" and formed a guild. The first "Schutterij" to form a guild was the "handbow-schutterij". Their patron saint was St. Sebastiaan, who sacrificed himself as a target for archers. To him they dedicated an altar and on his name day, 20th Jan. they went to church in procession, carrying a red banner with a yellow cross, the so-called Jeruzalembanner.
The second "Schutterij" to form a guild was the "footbow-schutterij".
The St. Joris-guild already existed in 1413 and had a white banner with a red cross. Both guilds had their own practice grounds within the city-walls, a fenced area, called the "Doelen" (Targets). Near this "Doelen" they owned a building, where the Brothers of the guild had their meetings. A lot of street names remind us where those were located.
Every year the "Schutterij" had a contest to elect their King. The marksman, who could shoot a wooden parrot from a high pole, was King for one year and formed with four other elected members the board of the guild. In the southern part of the Netherlands some village still have their annual "Schutter's feast".
The "Kloveniers-Schutterij", founded in 1522, was called after the first rifle ever used by the Amsterdam guild, the "Coluvrijn" or "Clover". Soon the 200 members of this guild formed the crack troops of the city, although the other two guilds still existed. In 1597 the three guilds were joined together with the existing "lower class" citizen civic guard and placed under one command. But the three guilds did not stop to exist; each evolved into an exclusive club for the rich.
Most of the paintings we know were painted to brighten up the "Kloveniers-Doelen", like the Nachtwacht painted by Rembrandt.
Looking at those pictures you see a lot of haughty men, dressed in expensive clothes, knowing they owned the world. That's exactly what (most of) the painters wanted to show us. They were the elite, the rich and famous, arrogant sons from wealthy families, dressed up like dandies and hardly looking like tough soldiers.