The Ambassadors is one of the most complex and arguably portrait which Holbein had painted. The purpose of this report is to analyze Han Holbeinfs painting, gThe Ambassadorsh. The main task of this report is to uncover the meaning of this painting, as it still remains unclear. Firstly, I will give a short introduction about the painter. Then, I will examine the characteristics of the people and the objects in the painting. Lastly, I will attempt to identify the meaning of the painting.
❦About Han Holbein
Hans Holbein the younger was a German artist born in Augsburg, Bavaria. He was an outstanding portrait and religious painter and his works ranges from woodcuts, glass paintings, illustrating books, portraits and altarpieces. Hans Holbein was also the appointed court painter to Henry VIII of England in 1536. It is estimated that during the last 10 years of his life, Holbein painted approximately 150 portraits of royalty and nobility and he also designed costumes, silverware and jewelry for the court. Holbeinfs other famous art works include the remarkable woodcuts piece, gThe Dance of Deathh and illustrations for Luther's Bible, the gMadonna of Burgomaster Meyeh altarpiece. Unfortunately, Holbein died in London in 1543 during a plague epidemic.
This painting was painted at the time that Henry VIII was trying to divorce his first wife Catherine of Aragon so he could marry Anne Bolyne, the second of his six wives.
Character: Two men in the painting
The character to the left is Jean de Dinteville, aged 29, French ambassador to England in 1533. To the right stands his friend, Georges de Selve, aged 25, Bishop of Lavaur, who acted on several@occasions as ambassador to the Emperor, the Venetian Republic and the Holy See. Dinteville wearing an opulent, fur-lined coat and decorated with the Order of St. Michael, while de Selve's clothes are more restrained. The French ambassador Dinteville was on an official visit from France to calm the growing tensions between Henry VIII, King of England, and Pope Clement VII. On the other hand, De Selve mission was to represent the interests of the Catholic Church. Two of them are good friends and this painting was painted during Dintevillefs visit to London.
Objects on the Top Shelf
There are a number of scientific instruments placed on the top shelf. From left to right, the tools include a Celestial globe, Shepherdfs dial, Table Quadrant, Simple Quadrant, Small Dial, Polyhedral sundial and a Torquetum. Most of these items are related to the study of heavenly bodies and the subject of astronomy. The Celestial globe is used to observe the positions of the stars and other celestial bodies. The Two Quadrant are used to read time, it allows the height of the sun and the angle to the horizon to be calculated. A sundial is an instrument used to measures apparent solar time, by measuring the position of the shadow of the sun as it changes through the day. The Torquetum is an object used to determine the relative position of heavenly bodies and tell the time. According to the experts, the sundials reveal that it is 10:30 am on April 11,1533. This tells us that exact date and time of Dintevillefs visit to London.
Objects on the Bottom shelf
Among the objects on the bottom shelf are a Terrestrial globe, a Arithmetic book, a set-square, a pair of dividers, a lute, German hymn-book and a case of flutes. The terrestrial globe shows the map of central Europe and if you have a close look on it, you can actually spot the word gPolisyh which indicate the estate Jean de Dinteville owns in France. The Arithmetic book next to the globe is partly open. The first word visible on the opened page begins with Divide. It might be indicating the political division, disharmony in Europe. Next to it is a lute that has a broken string. According to the experts, the broken strings might be another...
References: Foister, Susan, Roy Ashok & Martin Wyld, Making & Meaning: Holbein fs Ambassadors, London : Yale U.P., 1997
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