ARTYFACTS: Holbein - National Gallery

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Holbein - National Gallery

Henry VIII - fat thug
Focuses on his two periods in England. The English love the Henry VIII (and his unfortunate wives) story, despite the fact that he was a fat, psychopathic thug. The full length portrait from Madrid reminded me of a football thug or one of those fat English guys on holiday in Spain, posing for the camera after an all-day breakfast and five pints at lunchtime. This image IS Henry VIII. It has fossilised him in history. Art is that powerful.

All in all I was really looking forward to this show, but left a little downhearted. Holbein is a surface portrait painter. His realism had to flatter as his commissioners were dangerous. There are no 'inner thoughts' here, only the outside - it's all skin and fabric, or even worse in the case of henry - propoganda.

Did Holbein use optical Devices?
I really wanted to see, especially from the drawings, whether Holbein had used, as Hockney claims, optical devices. It is clear that he did. The drawings show exact tracings of heads with roughly sketched clothes and the dimensins of the portraits are remarkable similar. In his portrait of Thomas More's Son, the face is precise and the clothes really do seem to have been traced.

The Ambassadors (1533)
I popped into the National Gallery to see The Ambassadors, as it couldn't be moved for this exhibition. Hockney claims that the abundance of almost perfectly bdrawn rounded, and foreshortened objects in this painting could not have been drawn from life, especially the lute on the bottom shelf. The globe with its perfect map, the book with its musical score, all seem too perfect to have been eyeballed. The two books in the foreground have differnt vanishing points. Then there's the skull, as clear a clue as one can get that he was using such devices.

Portrait of Georg Gisze (1532)
I saw this in berlin a month later and it is even more convincing on the Hockney hypothesis. The walls are not at a right angle and the table slopes off dramatically in the bottom right hand corner. where we have a completely different perspective. The scales are not balanced.


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