Neil MacGregor, the director of the British Museum, marks the 400th anniversary of Rembrandt's birth. He visits Amsterdam, where Rembrandt made his home for the major part of his creative life, and where he painted the masterpieces that hang in galleries around the world.
Rembrandt's birthday is on July 15, and Amsterdam has marked the year with all kinds of events, from a new musical on Rembrandt's life to exhibitions looking at every aspect of the artist's work, from the epic painting of The Night Watch to small-scale etchings and drawings.
Neil MacGregor, a longtime enthusiast for Rembrandt's work, begins the programme in the house where Rembrandt lived in Amsterdam from 1639 to 1658, when bankruptcy in his later years forced him to move. Here, from the basement to the attic, are the everyday objects that Rembrandt would have known, from his box-bed to the huge collection of antiques and curios from all corners of the Dutch-traded world, which Rembrandt made use of to bring the excitement of the exotic into his work.
Nearby in the Rijksmuseum, an exhibition puts Rembrandt's major paintings against those of his slightly earlier Italian counterpart Caravaggio, showing the play of light and dark which gave both artists' work that gleaming, arresting quality, and which lent a powerful drama to the Biblical or classical scenes they often depicted.
In Rembrandt's case, he turned away from images of beauty or flattery to depict people in all their human frailty - their tenderness, uncertainty, pain, and mortality. It is these qualities, as Neil MacGregor says, that make his paintings reach out so directly to us today, as well as impressing the spectator with their mastery of skill and often dazzling richness. Download and start listening now!