Holbein details


The Merchant Georg Gisze (1532) by Hans Holbein the Younger.

Hans Holbein the Younger’s masterwork, The Ambassadors (1533), was one of the first paintings available for viewing when Google’s Art Project debuted in 2011. Not all the paintings that Google selects warrant the gigapixel treatment but The Ambassadors certainly does, as does this Holbein portrait of German merchant Georg Giese (Georg Gisze as he’s named in the picture) painted the year before. Holbein’s careful scrutiny and meticulous attention to detail give these pictures the appearance of 16th-century photographs. Crowded portraits such as this were intended to be closely studied, and the various objects read by the viewer, but book reproductions don’t always allow the proximity the artist intended. The heraldic crest on the signet ring lying on the table would have been a significant detail but it’s one that’s easy to miss without getting up close.




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Rentz’s Todentanz


A post for Día de los Muertos. The 16th-century Dance of Death by Hans Holbein the Younger has been copied and adapted many times, often with results that add little to the original. These engravings by Michael Heinrich Rentz (1701–1758) from Der Sogenannte Todentanz (1767) feature some impressive compositions, the subject being the traditional one of Death in skeletal form bearing all and sundry to the grave. They may lack the vigour of Holbein’s series but they compensate with a wealth of fine detail. Browse the rest of the book here or download it here.




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Holbein’s Dance of Death


A post for Día de los Muertos. The Internet Archive has several books reprinting the Dance of Death by Hans Holbein the Younger (1497–1543). These samples are from an 1892 edition. There’s also a complete copy of the very rare original printing, Les Simulachres & Historiees Faces De La Mort, Autant Elegamme[n]t Pourtraictes, Que Artificiellement Imaginées (1538), but the reproductions aren’t as good as the later copies. Later this month the Wellcome Collection in London hosts Death: A Self-portrait, an exhibition of memento mori and related art from the Richard Harris collection. They don’t say whether Holbein will be included but I’d be surprised if he wasn’t, these images of popes, kings and paupers being hauled to the grave by grinning skeletons have been reproduced endlessly. For an example of Holbein’s astonishing painting try his portrait of Charles de Solier.




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The Ambassadors in detail


Some revelations courtesy of a new venture, the Google Art Project, in which we’re given the opportunity to wander some of the world’s great art galleries and examine a selection of paintings in detail. Holbein’s 1533 masterpiece, The Ambassadors, is the default work for the collection from the National Gallery, London, and it’s a great place to start, being painted in a quite astonishing hyper-realist style. I’ve seen this work in situ and despite its being a large picture it’s difficult to offer it any kind of careful scrutiny. This is partly because the more famous works in that gallery always draw an impatient crowd eager for you to get out of their way, but also because the staff there don’t like people getting too close to the paintings; I was once reprimanded by a staff member for gesticulating too closely to one of the pictures whilst discussing it with a friend.


The Ambassadors is celebrated for its anamorphic vanitas skull (gallery visitors usually take turns viewing this from the side of the picture) and its collection of very carefully painted objects and instruments. Thanks to Google we’re now able to examine these to a degree we wouldn’t have been able to do before unless we worked for the gallery. Holbein astonishes even more when you can see how carefully he rendered so many different materials and textures. And this is only one of the works available from one of the galleries…


Of the paintings I’ve looked at so far not all allow such ultra-magnified views but then not all paintings require this. Artists such as Titian and Turner don’t benefit from scrutiny with a magnifying glass. An initial gripe would be the lack of any thumbnail view of the paintings on offer but it seems unfair to complain, this is a great development for art lovers. I’m hoping now that the project will evolve the way Google Earth has, with the addition of other galleries and paintings. A few more details follow.

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