The Ambassadors painting is one of the most famous and meaningful works of Hans Holbein. It is a double portrait depicting French ambassador Jean de Dinteville and bishop Georges de Selve. They wanted a biographical portrait and described in detail all the elements and parts of the future masterpiece. The specificity of double portraits is that there is no single center of the audience’s attention as characters complement each other with the help of items which, in turn, create a symbolic thread of the work. Holbein keeps a balance between actors and, at the same time, shows their connection with each other and with space.
specifically for you
for only $16.05 $11/page
Allegorical content of humanist principles
Even though The Ambassadors painting is recognized as a portrait, it reveals deep allegorical content. Holbein’s painting reflects secular humanistic principles. Such principles are characteristic of the whole Renaissance epoch. However, images created by Holbein are rather peculiar. People in this portrait harmoniously blend with the world of objects that surround them. Besides external harmony, Holbein forms internal harmony depicting the calm and balanced faces of the ambassador and the bishop.
The compositional diversity of the painting is crucial as objects are not only central to the picture but also describe characters emphasizing their lifestyle and the area of interest. It turns out that a still-life is perhaps the main sense-picture element of the painting. It unites two people and, at the same time, accentuates the individuality of each of them characterizing the era. On shelves, one could note the lute, compasses, math textbook, globe, and other items. Such a variety of subjects suggests versatility and education of these people such as music, geometry, mathematics, and astronomy. What is more, it reflects achievements of that time, in particular, great geographical discoveries and advances in astronomy and mathematics. One might also note a collection of Lutheran hymns disclosed on the “God save our souls” psalm. The choice of these pages is not accidental as there is nothing contrary to the principles of Christianity in these lines. Thus, Holbein and actors call for the reformation of the church based on Protestantism, but without separating from the Vatican. That is why ambassadors wanted to present themselves in humanist terms. They wanted to integrate religious, intellectual, and artistic interests and illustrate such a possibility in their example.
The most interesting, mysterious, and important component of the painting is an incomprehensible elongated spot at the bottom of the picture that is a distorted perspective of the human skull. Holbein uses this optical technique to demonstrate the image of double vision when looking at life and death. If the viewer looks at the picture in a familiar point, he or she sees the life of two people, their interests and concerns, and death appears illusory spot that is not worth paying attention to. However, under special consideration, death becomes the only reality, it negates the whole life-affirming part of the picture; life seems illusory, and no scientific achievements, nor power, nor money, nor progress – nothing seems real and meaningful against the face of death.
In conclusion, it should be stressed that Holbein created a genuine masterpiece – a picture that integrated the humanistic representation of the time. The Ambassador’s painting reveals the true values of life and death. Thus, Holbein created a portrait of the era.