Analysis of the French Ambassadors
Holbein’s piece of the French Ambassadors (23-11) depicts two people standing in what seems to be an office or study. One man, the one on the left seems to be a patron or some sort of a wealthy man. You can tell by the clothes he is wearing and how much more dignified he looks than from the man on his right.
The landowner has a fancy coat lined with some sort of fur. He has on some jewelry, a necklace, hanging from his neck. In his right hand he seems to be holding some kind of instrument showing he is an educated man.
His face is rendered with more realism than his peer on the right. He also seems to be bit more lively in spirit. The landowner is leaning upon a table that is loaded with many other instruments for collecting data. These tools are symbols that these two men aren’t your ordinary common folk, they are more like scholars and have curiosities about many different things in life as what was a main theme of the Renaissance. The globes on the tables indicate an interest in astronomy and geology.
It could also be a reference to Nicholas Copernicus a Renaissance astronomer who was the first to theorize that the earth wasn’t the center of the universe. Other instruments on the table indicate interests in mathematics, as there seems to be some cube object with numbers and angles maybe referring to geometry. Also on the table there is a mandolin signifying that not only are these two just purely scholars, but lively entertaining people or culturally diverse people.
Another object on the table has to be the open books, which seem to be journals or diaries of some sort because of how there is a feather pen marking a spot in one. On the table there is a mantle but to me it looks more than just a decorative pattern for protection of a table but a tapestry of some sort. Above and behind the men and the table is a green patterned curtain. The drapery on the curtain causes your eyes to flow downward upon to the men and the table. The man on the right is dressed in black robes, clothing of a clergyman with a pair of gloves in his hand.
If the clothes aren’t enough, he also has the white collar that all Catholic members of the church wear. The lighting in this painting is coming from the left as you can tell from how the landowner’s face seems to be more brightly lit than the clergyman’s. also you can tell by how on the clergyman’s side the painting gets gradually darker. One important thing about this painting is also the face of the gentlemen. In a way it seems as if two different artists of different caliber painted the faces. The landowners face looks loquent and beautiful, while the clergyman’s face looks simple and without much enthusiasm.
The biggest concept of this image has to be the grayish line of some sort running through the ground. This object is an anamorphic image and the most interesting part of this painting. An anamorphic image is a distorted image that is only viewable from a certain angle or through a mirror. When looking at the painting from a lower angle and tilting your head towards the left you see an image of a skull. This skull is a symbol that can mean two different things.
One is the study of sciences of the human body as there is no evidence of studying the human body is shown on the table that is supposed to represent education. The skull shows that the ponderings of the science of the human body bring these two men together. Another explanation for the symbol of the skull is to remind the viewer that even with all these great advancements and breakthroughs that man is still mortal and eventually one will die. The theme at first that I got was that men of the renaissance were greatly interested in the fine arts and education.
Once looking at the painting more in depth and various times I see that that is just scratching the surface. The theme for this painting is how even though the Church and Landowners/nobility and wealthy were of such different social classes and distinctions, and even though they had many differences, they were brought together by their thirst for knowledge about everything they could imagine of. This theme comes through how the two men are leaning on the table full of symbols of education and higher learning showing their interests in it.