Arts organisations are leading the way in adapting to the current lockdown, with museum and theatre doors firmly locked, fine exhibitions of art in darkness and theatre stages empty. While not quite the same as seeing the real thing, we can watch ballets from the Royal Opera House, learn art from Grayson Perry in his studio, explore the collections of the British Museum, be transported to the virtual reality gallery of Hauser & Wirth in Menorca and enjoy the Young Rembrandt exhibition at the Ashmolean Museum, all the better because not only can you see the exhibition on the Museum’s website, but it is one of four programmes in the BBC’s series ‘Museums in Quarantine’ available on BBC iplayer.
Rembrandt, living from 1606 to 1669, would not have been surprised by the current crisis, with the 17th century being one of plagues across Europe, including in Milan, Seville and Vienna, spread by flea-bearing rodents. The Great Plague of London (1664-5), for example, is said to have resulted in the deaths of over 100,000 people, mostly poor people who were forced to remain in the city, while the rich fled to their country estates (sounds familiar?). The Ashmolean itself, the first university museum in the world, was built shortly thereafter from 1678–1683.
Thus, with the current lockdown, a planned visit to the Ashmolean was not possible, to see what looks like being an excellent exhibition, but I have enjoyed the digital representations, though inevitably they can only provide a brief introduction and, in many ways a taster for the number of works you can glimpse in the background. In normal times, these would in fact be essential viewing before visiting the exhibition, as they provide so much background information and bring Rembrandt and his work to life, and perhaps that is something to learn for the future.