Having already suffered the early loss of his wife and three of their children, Rembrandt’s later years were burdened with bankruptcy, acrimonious legal proceedings with a former lover, and the loss of his common-law wife and only remaining son. However, far from diminishing as he aged, Rembrandt’s creativity gathered new energy.
From the 1650s until his death in 1669, Rembrandt pursued an artistic style that was expressive and radical. His bold manipulation of printing and painting techniques and progressive interpretations of traditional subjects inspired generations of artists, earning him a reputation as the greatest master of the Dutch Golden Age.
Through famous masterpieces and rare drawings and prints, ‘The Late Works’ examines the themes that preoccupied Rembrandt as he grew older: self-scrutiny, experimentation, light, observation of everyday life and even other artists’ works; as well as expressions of intimacy, contemplation, conflict and reconciliation.
Drawing inspiration from British art and literature, his real and imagined travels to North Africa, and biblical scenes; every chord of human passion can be found in Delacroix’s paintings – stories of love, murder, violence, and war. “The first merit of a painting is to be a feast for the eye,” he emphasised towards the end of his life.
The painting is a tronie, the Dutch 17th-century description of a ‘head’ that was not meant to be a portrait. It depicts a European girl wearing an exotic dress, an oriental turban, and an improbably large pearl earring.
To better understand the original function and context of the altarpiece, the exhibition includes a short documentary film about San Pier Maggiore – a church largely destroyed in the 18th century – using surviving archival, archaeological, and visual material. This film can also be viewed here.
A melting pot of traditional and avant-garde music, theatre and performance, the festival featured artists from both East and West, including the Beatles’ muse, sitar player Ravi Shankar and American composer John Cage, alongside Rwandan drummers and Balinese Gamelan musicians and dancers. Orghast,
a play by poet Ted Hughes and Mahin Tajadod, co-directed by Peter Brook, was staged, while Merce Cunningham’s dancers performed calisthenics among the ruins of Persepolis.
The festival came to an end with the Iranian revolution, but is now brought to life through this display of archive film and photographs, original theatre programmes and posters seen for the first time in the UK.