Lord Melvyn Bragg and Sir Simon Schama celebrate Rembrandt on stage

The pair met to discuss the Dutch master in front of an audience to mark 350 years since his death


One of Rembrandt’s greatest, best-loved and most famous paintings, a self-portrait in his old age, has pride of place in Kenwood House on Hampstead Heath and was given a new display in October to commemorate 350 years since the Dutch master's death.

On Monday, English Heritage and the Friends of Kenwood organised a discussion on Rembrandt between Lord Melvyn Bragg and fellow enthusiast Sir Simon Schama at Kings Place, the Jewish Book Week venue in King's Cross, London.

Even though, unusually, neither has a current book to promote, these public intellectuals (and Oxbridge History graduates) are highly accomplished performers, equally comfortable addressing a live audience, speaking into a radio microphone or talking to a television camera.

The large audience was certainly appreciative of Sir Simon’s unscripted insights into Rembrandt’s genius. It’s 20 years since he published Rembrandt’s Eyes, and he remains certain that the Dutch master’s position at the summit of the premier league of great artists is secure.

The evening was like a recording of a South Bank Show arts programme or an episode of In Our Time for Radio 4 with one brilliant soloist.

Lord Bragg introduced Sir Simon, left the stage as the latter explored Rembrandt’s dramatic life for an hour and then returned to interview him. 

Sir Simon was in his element, speaking with his characteristic fluency and offering relevant illustrations, ending with the iconic ‘Jewish Bride’.

If you missed the recent Rembrandt exhibition in Amsterdam, this was a decent consolation prize. By the close, you just wanted to stand, once more, before that extraordinary 350-year-old Kenwood House painting and gaze at it with renewed awe.

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