Young Rembrandt at the Ashmolean - More Content Available Online!

May 3, 2020

The leading master of the Flemish Baroque, Rembrandt is recognized by art history as the most influential artist of his generation. Best known for large scale historical scenes, portraitist and self-portraits, as well as astonishing prints, this prolific figure operated as a crucial cultural agent who didn’t just paint, but also collected and mediated art to others.

Although apparently gifted, his artistic development was painstaking and took him years to perfect his craft. The prestigious British institution, The Ashmolean is hosting Young Rembrandt, the first major survey in the UK entirely focused on the artist’s early years, or to be more precise, the ten year period between 1624 and 1634.

Left Rembrandt van Rijn - Portrait of an 83-Year-Old Woman Right Rembrandt van Rijn - Jeremiah
Left: Rembrandt van Rijn - Portrait of an 83-Year-Old Woman (possibly Aechje Claesdr.), 1634. Oil on panel, 71.1 x 55.9 cm. National Gallery, London / Right: Rembrandt van Rijn - Jeremiah Lamenting the Destruction of Jerusalem, 1630. Oil on panel, 58 x 46 cm. Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam

The Beginning of The Great Master

This exhibition perfectly encapsulates Rembrandt's effort and hard work on the scale from his earliest known and unrefined work,  The Spectacles Seller (1624-25), to the painting Jeremiah Lamenting the Destruction of Jerusalem (1630) painted six years later which embodies what is to become his signature style.

The show includes a total number of thirty one paintings by Rembrandt, thirteen by his contemporaries, and ninety drawings and prints loaned from international and private collections, as well as the recently discovered piece Let the Little Children Come to Me (1627–8) debuted on this occasion.

The exhibition co-curator Professor Christopher Brown CBE, Director-Emeritus of the Ashmolean and world-renowned expert on Dutch painting and Rembrand, briefly emphasized the importance of Rembrandt’s early works:

The first decade of Rembrandt’s career is central to any understanding of his work as a whole. In his early paintings, prints and drawings we find a young artist exploring his own style, grappling with technical difficulties and making mistakes. But his progress is remarkable and the works in this exhibition demonstrate an amazing development from year to year. We can see exactly how he became the pre-eminent painter of Amsterdam and the universally adored artist he remains 350 years after his death.

Left Rembrandt van Rijn - A Man in Oriental Dress Right Rembrandt van Rijn - Bearded Old Man
Left: Rembrandt van Rijn - A Man in Oriental Dress (‘The Noble Slav’), 1632. Oil on canvas, 152.7 x 111.1 cm. Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York / Right: Rembrandt van Rijn - Bearded Old Man, 1632. Oil on panel, 66.9 x 50.7 cm. Fogg Museum, Harvard Art. Museums, Cambridge, MA

The Film

BBC Four recently screened a new 30-minute BBC Arts film about the exhibition, written and narrated by Professor Sir Simon Schama CBE. The preparations for Young Rembrandt an entire decade, and after three weeks from the opening it had to be closed due to coronavirus. After the closure, the film was shot in just one day with minimal crew and equipment to ensure the social distancing measures as part of BBC Arts’ Culture in Quarantine initiative. In regards to that Schama stated:

I was lucky to see Young Rembrandt at the Ashmolean just before it was forced to close and I’m delighted to have the chance to bring the exhibition to people’s homes during lockdown. Rembrandt is loved, generation after generation, for his capacity to depict the whole of humanity with the keenest and kindest of eyes. We look to him for empathy, understanding and pure joy at his astonishing abilities. Right now we could all do with a bit of Rembrandt.

Left Jan Lievens - Samson and Delilah Right Rembrandt and others - Let the Little Children
Left: Jan Lievens - Samson and Delilah, c. 1625–6. Oil on canvas, 128.5 x 109.5 cm. Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam / Right: Rembrandt and others - Let the Little Children Come to Me, c. 1627–8 and later. Oil on canvas, 83 x 103 cm. Courtesy of Jan Six Fine Art, Amsterdam

Young Rembrandt at the Ashmolean

The Ashmolean decided to feature a great deal of the exhibition online by producing new short films with Exhibition Curator An Van Camp to coincided the mentioned film. Until the government grants the reopening of the art institutions, the museum is rearranging for the loan permits to be extended until the closing date of the Young Rembrandt show, scheduled for 7 June 2020.

New information will be announced soon at the Asmolean website.

  Editors’ Tip: Young Rembrandt

Young Rembrandt concentrates on the first ten years of the career of Rembrandt van Rijn (1606-1669). Born in Leiden, he trained there with Isaac van Swanenburg and in Amsterdam with Pieter Lastman. After a short stay in Amsterdam he returned to Leiden and set up a studio where he began his extraordinary career, painting scenes from the Bible and classical mythology and history, as well as a handful of genre scenes and portraits. His progress is remarkable: from the earliest hesitant paintings of the Five Senses in about 1624 to the wonderfully assured Jeremiah of 1630 it is almost possible to trace his development and his increasing fluency and self-confidence from month to month and certainly from year to year.

Featured image: Rembrandt van Rijn - Rembrandt’s Father, 1628–9. Pen, brown ink and brown wash, 19 x 24 cm. Ashmolean Museum, University of Oxford

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