Creative Culture Column: The Old Dutch Master

Our new Creative Culture columnist Elizabeth Woodward talks about the Young Rembrandt exhibition at a museum within an hour’s drive of MK…

With the reopening of the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford, came my much anticipated opportunity to visit the extended Young Rembrandt exhibition (open until early November).

Described by The Times as ‘revelatory’, I certainly had high expectations. Young Rembrandt is the first major exhibition to focus solely on the early works of the Old Master and there were 120 paintings, drawings and prints on show brought together from international and private collections.

My expectations were met and surpassed by this wonderfully detailed exploration of Rembrant’s formative years as an artist. It follows his very early career and begins in 1624, when Rembrandt was a young man who was trying to establish himself as an independent artist in his hometown of Leiden.

The exhibition takes a detailed look at the decade that follows and finishes in 1634, when he is living in Amsterdam as an established and successful artist.

It is unusual for an exhibition to so blatantly highlight an artist’s failures but they were a focus in the first gallery of the exhibition where his trial and error approach to his early works make it apparent that he began as a somewhat unremarkable talent.

His early works seem unsure, hesitant and feature out of proportion figures and caricature like faces. His early style is so changeable that attributions have remained a point of contention.

Walking around the gallery, you can see him learning more about perspective, anatomy and rapidly honing his skills.

This is in part due to his friendship with Jan Lievens, who was arguably the more naturally gifted artist of the pair and this spurred the competitive Rembrandt to improve.

Through the exhibition you are able to witness Rembrandt slowly but surely establishing his distinctive style that we all recognise today.

This exhibition gives you the chance to witness how talent borne of hard work and perseverance made Rembrandt one of the most famous Dutch artists of all time and dispels the idea that all of the greats of art history were simply born prodigies, while allowing you to see many rarely seen works.

I would highly recommend a visit to The Ashmolean or you can view an online version of the exhibition on the Ashmolean website.

For the online exhibition, visit http://www.ashmolean.org/youngrembrandtonline

This feature was published in the November 2020 issue of Celebrate:MK lifestyle magazine. Read the full magazine above or by clicking on this link.

This feature was published in the November 2020 issue of Celebrate:MK lifestyle magazine. Read the full magazine above or by clicking on this link.

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