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Ambassadors: the secret of the green curtain

This is a long story of passion, art, and diplomacy I’ve been working on for quite some time. This is why I broke it in micro chapters for convenience, as well as suspense. You won’t be able to hear the story anywhere else. You have no choice, but to read on.

Analysis of an artwork is as much about knowledge of history, as it is about common sense, with the latter being often overlooked. Poor knowledge of history results in misinterpretation (stupid), a lack of common sense leads to overinterpretation (plain crazy). So, armed with history context and common sense we’ll try to discover and explain the last remaining secrets of The Ambassadors by Hans Holbein, a painting that can be found in any book titled “100 (or 500 or 1000) paintings to see before you die”.

Scholars (give them a deep bow, would you please?) have explained the symbolism of almost everything that the eye can find in this painting. There are so many signs and symbols in there, I fear Dan Brown novelising it into another crime of his against history and the English language.

The Ambassadors (1533) by Hans Holbein

Almost everything has been explained. But not all.
What are the elements for which explanation is non-existing or shaky?

  1. Find the small crucifix in the upper left corner, right behind the green curtain. Why is it there? Why the green curtain at all? Why not a background more fitting to represent two ambassadors?
  2. The big skull at the bottom that is seen as an ugly blot from the front, but becomes a 3d skull if you look at it from a sharp angle. Why not paint a “normal” skull and be done with this “memento mori”?
  3. Why on earth did Holbein piled up all those objects? The Marxist critic, John Berger, believed it was done to symbolise wealth and the dawn of a new order of things when, colonies and tradesmen will be generating wealth, not titles. Others believe the portrayed characters wanted to show off their IQ with all this stuff. Who’s right?

Hans Holbein never played with objects unless there was some purpose behind it. So, what was his purpose, his grand design behind this painting – given that he couldn’t use any symbolism that would not have been agreed with the sitters first?

I promise to answer these questions, but first you need to imagine yourself a French envoy on a secret mission.

Click on page 2 (below the like and sharing buttons) to begin your transformation into a 16th century equivalent of James Bond!



Let me take a sec to answer this million-dollar question: Why do I blog?

I am afraid the answers are very selfish.

1. One day, I am going to summarise some of this into a book on my approach to art appreciation. It helps to see which ideas resonate with my readers and which do not.

2. Recording my experiences and views that I want to bounce off other points of view. It helps to refine my thinking.

What I do not blog for?

1. Money. No, I don’t need a penny from blogging, thank you very much. I am good. I think about hiring an English-speaking editor, as English is not my native language, to make the posts a better read. That’s expense, not income.

2. Recognition. I’m pretty well recognised in my real life for things very different from what I am writing about here.

The side-effect benefit of blogging is that I see that I make my readers interested in arts, wake up their curiosity or impact their point of view.

I like that. And it is tempting to announce it as my goal. It would be dishonestly noble.

Frankly, I am not blogging because of it.

And I would like to use this opportunity to say HUGE THANKS to all my readers. As I am a selfish bastard, please never hesitate to criticise me or to mention something that left an impression on you. Please. Be honest and helpful. Because it pays: I’ll write better, and I’ll write more, and – in the end – will get you intellectually entertained in some more enjoyable ways! 

As they say, honesty and trust are the number one key to a successful relationship. I am being honest, and I trust you won’t object. It’s not, obviously, me in this poster, and it is not about “why I blog”, but it does highlight the importance of trust, honesty, and never losing the key.


PS The girl in the picture wears iron bikini, locked by someone who obviously trusts her, but would like to make dishonesty not an option. I have to write it, because -well – I know some of my readers are not as spoilt as I am and may not recognise the device that’s in the focus of my joke 😉

Let go and follow the wind

Sometimes, you just have to let go and sail to where the wind takes you. So many artists need to do it. So many need to let go of what they know, do, and sometimes even sell successfully and start a search for new subject matter. It’s a pity they keep drying up the well of their talent.

Just sharing my thoughts when taking this picture )

Happy New Year!

The burning numbers had not died away yet, but the kids felt already bored and rushed off to do something else. Kids! They don’t care how much effort has been expended on installing, lighting and cleaning away.

I wish you, my dear adult readers, to be able to enjoy nice moments while they last, to the full, and especially if someone made an effort to make those moments nice, and to never get bored in 2013)