Hans Holbein, The Ambassadors, 1533.
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"Holbein's The Ambassadors." Smarthistory.org. January 14th, 2010. <http://smarthistory.org/holbein.html>.
Video on two historians: Dr. Beth Harris, and Dr. Steven Zucker. These two people give their opinions on all of the symbolism on "The Ambassadors" by Hans Holbein. This website was a very valuable website because you are able to hear all of these ideas of possible symbolism in the video from different educated people's opinions.
  • They see the representation of the papacy and the Politics in the painting.
  • Objects on the top layer are objects of navigation that can speak to what these two mean have to do in their jobs as ambassadors
  • The Age of exploration and mapping the world.
  • The age where the Europeans are noticing that Europe is not the center of the universe and that the earth is not at the center of the universe
  • The time of the renaissance is signifying this enlightenment.
  • The bishop has been speculated to be sent up to France to speak to the ambassador on the left.
  • The lute in that context gives the hint about the problems in Europe at this moment.
  • The broken string on the lute a symbol of the discord in Europe at this moment. And the disharmony in the church.
  • The celestial globe on top vs. the terrestrial globe on bottom.
  • There is a smudge on the very top left part of the painting hidden in the curtain which is actually half of a body on the crucifix which could connect to the morphed skull at the bottom of the painting
  • This connection between the purpose of the painting suppose to be celebrating wealth, but than has hints of these grim ideas.

"The Ambassadors." Nationalgallery.org. January 14th, 2010. <http://www.nationalgallery.org.uk/paintings/hans-holbein-the-younger-the-ambassadors>.
This Article was extremely helpful because it gave the "The Ambassadors" by Hans Holbein in a way were you can zoom in and out on certain parts of the painting at certain angles which helped see morphed objects like the Crucifix, the Skull, or the Lute.
  • The lute that has one broken string on the bottom shelf to symbolize discord
    • This image is one of the objects of religious contrast
  • The globe on both shelves (the age of exploration and mapping out or navigation the world)
  • The open Hymnbook Religious image of contrast
  • At this time europe was going through this time of Enlightenment were Europeans realized that neither Europe was in the middle of the earth nor was earth the middle of the universe.
  • The lute symbolized this discord during this part of the middle ages where there was disharmony in the church.
  • This painting is a double portrait of two ambasssadors in 1533.
  • This painting displays the wealth during this time (the cloth, the two globes, and the luxurious robes that both of them are wearing)

"Hans Holbein's The Ambassadors."Rennaissance-art.suite101.com. January 14th, 2010. <http://renaissance-art.suite101.com/article.cfm/hans_holbeins_the_ambassadors>.
This website was very helpful for this project because it provided me with the picture of the morphed skull morphed back into the perspective where it looks normal. This website also includes more in-depth explanation into the symbolism in the use of anamorphism with the skull.
Noticable Symbolism:
  • The Skull that is disphormed on the floor : Anamorphism
    • The Skull on the floor symbolizes this idea of mortality
    • Anamorphism was the idea of painting the picture in a way that could depict an object in a distorted way where you could only see the object correctly from a certain angle. The object that is depicted that way in this picture is the skull stretched sideways on the floor in the picture
    • This skull could be represented in this way because it shows the limitations of the human view and perspectives. These limits of human knowledge show different limitations between religion (hymn book completely open + half hidden Crucifix) and not being able to see the skull through the god's perspective or know the same things that god is able to see.
    • To move a few feet away from the frontal contemplation of the painting is to efface everything within, to bring death into the world,” Greenblatt.


Description of the Image/story

First Paragraph: Describe the image (what is the story and symbolism of the piece)
The Ambassadors by Hans Holbein is a double portrait of two French Ambassadors who are visiting England in 1533. At this time of this painting there is this age of exploration along with this time of Enlightenment in Europe, and a period of time in Europe were the papacy is being challenged and the church is not in harmony. There are many objects in this painting that are spread around the painting; Some paintings are on shelves and one is even on the floor. These objects all have very important symbolism with each of them. The objects on the top shelf include a compass, a globe, and other objects that would be used to help someone navigate themselves around the earth. These tools of navigation symbolize what these two ambassadors do which is navigating around the earth. This exploration of the places that were once limited by sea are now being explored by humans which also signifies these humans trying to obtain this godly knowledge. The most noticeable object in the picture that sticks out on the floor is this smudged, stretched, and morphed object on the floor that looks kind of like a piece of wood. This object on the floor does not fit in with all of the other luxurious objects in the paintings like the ambassadors clothes that are celebrating their wealth. This morphed object is actually a skull that has been morphed into not being distinguishable. This technique of only being able to see an object from a certain angle is called anamorphism. The signifigance of this object being morphed is that a human looking at the image from one perspective displays the humans limitation on knowledge and vision. This theme of navigation and trying to obtain the knowledge that god possesses mixed with the skull displaying the limitations of a humans perspective.

Discussion of Humanist Themes

Second Paragraph: Where in the artwork is there evidence of renaissance themes?
The Ambassadors by Hans Holbein was painted in 1533 at the time were these humanistic values could have greatly influenced the difference symbolism in objects in the painting. Humanism was a theme during the renaissance that was an intellectual movement towards education and the classics. The theme of education and the limitations of a humans knowledge are very evident in The Ambassadors. The ambassadors are showed as these humans trying to expand their knowledge through exploration with these navigation devices that include a compass and a globe. This humanistic value is also very evident in the representation of the papacy being challenged in the crucifix being hidden in the top left corner, and the open hymnbook on the bottom shelf. These two ambassadors have succeeded with their goal of exploring the earth and have been enlightened with such knowledge that includes knowing that the center of the earth is not Europe and that the earth is not the center of the universe, but are also limited to what they can know because of them being human. The morphed skull at the bottom of the painting symbolizes the limitation of human knowledge because of only being able to see the skull from a certain angle. This skull is a Momento Mori, or a representation of death. The inclusion of death in the painting through the half crucifix and with the skull signifies this large limitation on what knowledge that human can have.