Monday, July 02, 2007

Art History Answers--The Ambassadors

Hmm, well it's been a while since I've had time to post some updated art history. I'll give some answers to my last post and retire the program for a while. The last image I posted was "The Ambassadors" by Hans Holbein the Younger (yes, there was an Older and he was an artist also). The items on the shelf between the two men represent many aspects of their lives. The globe is set to show the location of a town in France from whence one of the men came. The lute reflects their mutual interest in music and had one broken string as a reminder of the decay of the world (a vanitas reference found in many paintings; whenever you see skulls, decayed items or timepieces they are frequently references to mortality). One of the books is open to a hymn by Martin Luther. There are also several tools used by astronomers, reflecting again their common interest in science and the heavens. Off the top of my head those are the items I remember, but I'm sure there are more.

But what about that bizarre thing in the middle of the floor? It is the ultimate vanitas reference painted in anamorphic perspective. The object is a skull and it is easily visible if one observes the painting from the lower right side of the painting. Many historians/critics speculate that the painting hung on a staircase where the descending viewer would see the skull in correct perspective for a moment while passing. Sort of a nice way to remind you to make the day count because you'll soon be dead. Wondering what to do about the whole death question? Don't miss the small silver crucifix in the upper left corner of the painting. Don't leave earth without Him--at least that's my intention, if not the artist's also.

Want to learn even more about this fascinating painting? Visit here for a deeper discussion of the symbolic meaning of the items and here for more information on the history of anamorphic painting. That's all for art history for a while. I'm busy reading about aesthetics now, so maybe we'll return with philosophical questions in the fall... In the meantime I need to make some art!

And here is a skewed and cropped version of the skull. I tried to leave a bit of the image as a reference point.

1 comment:

Susan Silver Dill said...

Thanks for listing this info. I began to get my degree in Art History years ago, before kids and homeschool. I enjoy delving back into this. Blessings, Susan