Tag Archives: Hans Holbein

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!

Avatar pictures by Hans Holbein, 500 years old, as new

In my spare time, I am working on a study of Holbein’s Ambassadors (which will give a slightly different view on this famous painting, and I dare say there would be some exciting stuff never noticed before). Researching Holbein’s life I could not miss his work on the Praise of Folly by Erasmus of Rotterdam. Hobein was asked to illustrate the book using margins and spare pages. He was 18 at the time, no college, but lots of on-the-job training.

Holbein could not envisage the popularity of social networks, but he created dozens of amazing avatar pics very relevant five centuries later. As the Devil in Mikhail Bulgakov’s great novel “Master and Margarita” would say, “People haven’t changed, they’ve just been spoilt a bit by the invent of mortgage”. So, let me introduce you to some of my favourite types!

This one is actually related to the Ambassadors. You’d see the same set of instuments there. This is the perfect avatar for those who think themselves a “Renaissance Man”.

Are you an established artist? Well, then this one is for you:

Oh, you are the Kantian type of an art-lover? You think that Art is about the Ideal Beauty (for its own sake, and without any sexual harrasment of the soul)? Grab this one:

You like commenting posts of others infusing your message with a spoonful of ridicule and sarcasm? Then this one begs to be adoped:

Children psychologist, kindergarten teacher, or just a blogging babysitter can’t resist picking this one:

A knight with a big one.

A knight with a nested one.

Like playing games but only the ones you know you’d win?

You are always armed. Always prepared. You answer questions at length. Your arguments won’t fit three paragraphs, and all your arguments are deadly convincing? This sage would tell all that and more without words.

That’s a bit ambiguous. It would fit a man always ready to end a discussion with a request that the opponent moves off. But it is also suitable to those who are willing to go anywhere where there is someone showing directions.

I am an intovert. I like flowers. There’s more beauty in them than in people. You are wicked, I am leaving. Feel personal resonance with any of this? Then this avatar is for you:

This is for someone who loves mass friending. Note the discarded dolls. They didn’t friend back.

Well, hope you liked it. There are dozens more, and if you want me to share a few more, drop a line )