His Most Famous Painting (The Ambassadors) – Hans Holbein

Hans Holbein (1497-1543), also known as Hans Holbein the Younger, was a German ‘Northern Renaissance’ painter, drafter, designer, and the printmaker of sixteenth century. He was known as ‘Younger’ to differentiate from his father, also an artist, Hans Holbein the Elder. Hans, the creator of “The Ambassadors,” was married to Elsbeth Binsenstock, the widow of a tanner. He spent most of his life in England.

Hans Holbein manifested the influence of Early Netherlandish painters in his paintings. He portrayed many religious pictures. Some of his most famous paintings were exhibited the court of King Henry VIII of England. When Holbein was in England in 1533, he procured an opportunity from the French Ambassador Jean de Dinteville (1503- 1555) to paint an extensive, glorious, & magnificent panel work, also his most famous painting, called “The Ambassadors.”

“The Ambassadors” (1533) is currently present in the National Gallery, London. It is an oil and tempera work on oak, measuring 207 cm x 209.5 cm. “The Ambassadors” is an excellent example of ‘Anamorphosis’ (an atrociously deformed representation of a picture, painted on either a plane or a curved surface).

Holbein’s most famous painting “The Ambassadors” is a double portrait displaying two ambassadors Jean de Dinteville (left) and Georges de Selve (right), standing on the either side of a two shelf table situated centrally to them. Jean is in secular clothing, while Georges is wearing a clerical dress. Therefore, it is broadly believed that the painting depicts the unification of religion with capitalism, while some others interpret it as a clear conflict between the two. The upper surface of the table is covered with an ‘Oriental’ carpet. The ‘Still Life’ has a prominent depiction, as even the minute details of the objects are covered. The exact interpretation of this ‘Still Life’ in the painting has always been controversial. In fact, Holbein would mostly ‘Symbolically’ use ‘Still Life’ to depict the prominent advancements of the respective time.

Hans’ most famous painting “The Ambassador” portrays the following ‘astronomical’ objects on the upper shelf of the table:
o Torquetum, which an ancient Greek scientist, Ptolemy, discovered. Through Torquetum, the position of the heavenly bodies in the solar system could be arbitrated. It also helped in determining the time accurately.
o On the left side of the Torquetum, a celestial globe is present. It is assumed that the latitude (42 and 43 degrees) set on the globe is not for London but for Spain or Italy.

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