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Museums in Quarantine

Series 1, Episode 2 of 4

Historian Simon Schama takes us on a very personal virtual tour of the Young Rembrandt exhibition at the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, currently in lockdown. The exhibition charts the first ten years of the Dutch master’s career, when the miller’s son from Leiden became the superstar of 17th-century Amsterdam and was on course to become one of the greatest artists of all time.

For Schama, who was able to see the exhibition before it closed, the coronavirus crisis has given Rembrandt’s work even more impact and resonance. As he says, ‘No artist I think better understood the fragile nature of human happiness; the shocking suddenness with which we can go from riches to rags, wellbeing to sickness, contentment to grief.’

Schama tells the story of the artist’s rise to fame and riches, celebrating the audacity and astonishing technical mastery of many of the works on show. But he also shows us a deeply wise and philosophical artist, who was always aware of the fickleness of fortune, and who was as interested – if not more – in portraying beggars as he was prosperous burghers and kings.


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