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Hans Holbein, the younger.

January 25, 2010

This painting, known commonly as “The Ambassadors” is an amazing painting that explores the rift between the religious and the secular. One of the men is dressed like a cleric while the other wears the robes of a merchant. The instruments on the table between them, globes, lyres, books etc. all hold significance in the two respective worlds.

WIKIPEDIA: Among the clues to the figures’ explorative associations are two globes (one terrestrial and one celestial), a quadrant, a torquetum, a polyhedral sundial and various textiles: the floor mosaic, based on a design from Westminster Abbey (the Cosmati pavement, before the High Altar), and the carpet on the upper shelf, which is most notably oriental. The choice for the inclusion of the two figures can furthermore be seen as symbolic. The figure on the left is in secular attire while the figure on the right is dressed in clerical clothes. Their flanking of the table, which displays open books, symbols of religious knowledge and even a symbolic link to the Virgin, is therefore believed by some critics to be symbolic of a unification of capitalism and the Church.

The main thing I want to explore is that weird, bizarre, angled skull smack dab in the middle.

This example of anamorphism (a distorted projection or perspective requiring the viewer to use special devices or occupy a specific vantage point to reconstitute the image) skews the skull so it is almost unintelligible. We have to bend down, squint and change our position to see what it could be.

I’d love to see this painting in a museum. I’d love to see the crowd standing in front of it, with one random guy bending weirdly in the front row. This is something that art is supposed to do. Force you to look at something from another angle, to bend a bit out of the normal stance. And when you bend to see, in this painting we are forced to stare death in the face.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. tOdd permalink
    February 13, 2010 5:58 am

    I shouldn’t try looking at it on an iPhone! Lol

    I’m loving your perspectives…Cath is taking a class via chemeketa comm college right now in order to maintain her teachng licensure, and the class is Art300 something…she’s enjoying it, and I told her she needs to read your blog in order to see and learn how to breakdown/unpack the mystery and beauty and wonder of art.

  2. February 16, 2010 11:06 pm

    You CAN see it, at the National Gallery in London. Want to go?

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