The painting The Ambassadors is the work of Hans Holbein the Younger (c. 1497-1543). Holbein was a leading figure in the Northern Renaissance style (which differed from the Renaissance style prevalent in Italy and Spain), and specialized in religious painting before Catholic religious imagery was prohibited in the Germanosphere during the Reformation. Holbein then moved to England, where he became a painter for the Tudor court, turning his hand instead to portraits of royalty and the aristocracy in the employ of King Henry VIII.
This life-size painting depicts two men leaning with their arms resting on a two-tier rack of shelves. On the left is the French ambassador to England Jean de Dinteville; on the right is French diplomat and ecclesiastic Georges de Selve. In the lower half of the painting lies a mysterious object with the appearance of a diagonally-oriented shadow, an example of the famous anamorphosis. If one looks at the painting from the lower left one can discern the shape of a skull (see photo of detail). It is believed that the painting was originally hung to the side of a staircase, and so when one approaches it from either side, walking up or down the stairs, the anamorphic skull appears as if floating above the surface of the painting.
Even though Holbein had moved from religious to secular painting, in this work he still employs the symbolic meaning of religious iconography. On the upper shelf there are objects including a celestial globe, a sundial and a quadrant, while on the lower shelf lie a terrestrial globe, a mathematical book with a ruler between its pages and a lute, its neck framing an open Lutheran Psalmbook. These objects symbolize various fields of learning: astronomy, mathematics, geometry and music. If one looks closer, one can see the lute has a broken string: some scholars believe this represents discord between science and the Church.
Photo: Wikimedia Commons
Holbein’s approach here is an example of the vanitas paintings popular in the day, symbolic works expressing the certainty of death and the illusory nature of earthly pleasures. It is recorded that de Dinteville’s motto was the Latin phrase memento mori (Remember thou shalt die). The liberal use of symbols of knowledge and the attention to detail in the clothing, fur and textiles in this painting also point to the concept that all material things are but illusory and non-substantial, while true substance lies in the non-material.
(Translated by Paul Cooper)
Photo: Wikimedia Commons
A: We got to the store just in the nick of time. Look at the size of the line. B: How many lottery tickets should we buy? A: Four. Four tickets: four times the luck. B: Um. . . I’m not sure the math checks out, but it’s true the more tickets we buy, the higher the chance we have of winning. A: Come on, come on. What’s the hold up? B: Looks like the person at the front of the line can’t decide on his numbers. Couldn’t he have made up his mind while waiting in line? A:
The long wait is finally over, as the Taipei Area reopens for large concerts. Due to the COVID-19 outbreak, dozens of shows at the venue were forced to be canceled this year. After the Central Epidemic Command Center (CECC) relaxed its restrictions across public venues on June 7, applications to hold events at the multipurpose stadium are once again being accepted. Singer Eric Chou will become the first to perform at the Taipei Arena as it reopens, bringing back his Deluxe concert tour with two shows on Saturday and Sunday. On Aug. 15, online retailer PChome Online will stage a
A: OK then, tell me what you would do if you hit the jackpot. B: First things first, I would buy a beautiful mansion with a large landscaped garden, including a hedge maze, and a large lake with a family of white swans. A: Wow, you’ve really thought it through in detail. What next? B: Next, I will found a television company called Happy News TV. It will cover only positive and uplifting news stories. There’s too much negative news in the world today, so I want to spend my money spreading happiness. A: I like the idea, but I think
A: Thirty seconds to go until the results come in. Have you got your lottery tickets at the ready? B: Yep. I’m starting to feel a bit nervous. A: Me too. I have butterflies in my stomach. Here we go. B: Eight … 19 … 37. Yes! I’m on a roll! A: I haven’t had a single one of my numbers come up yet. B: I just need a 6 or a 15 and I’m in the money! Come on, come to papa! Argh, no: I’m all out of luck. A: Oh well: nothing ventured, nothing gained. I’ll put the kettle on. Let’s