Holbein – The Ambassadors

PREVIOUS: RAPHAEL – POPE JULIUS II

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Hans Holbein: The Ambassadors: 1533

This is a picture full of meanings – some obvious, some hidden. We can see two gentlemen; on the left is Jean de Dintville, whom the French King had sent on a diplomatic mission to the court of Henry VIII. It was de Dintville who commissioned this painting to mark the visit to London of his friend Georges de Selves – the man on the right – in 1533.

Between them are a couple of shelves with all manner of objects on them – globes, musical and scientific instruments, books. And on the floor is a curious black and white “smudge”, that doesn’t seem to belong to the painting at all. Continue reading

Botticelli – Venus and Mars

PREVIOUS: VAN EYCK, THE ARNOLFINI PORTRAIT

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Sandro Botticelli: Venus and Mars: about 1480-90

We’re back across the Alps to Florence for this painting, Botticelli’s Venus and Mars. Venus, the god of Love, reclines on a red cushion watching her lover Mars, the god of War, as he sleeps on a pink blanket.

And it’s a deep, deep sleep. Not even one of the satyrs, the mischievous half child, half goat creatures, blowing a conch in his ear can wake him.

I think we can guess what’s just been taking place, and if you want any more hints, look at the satyrs carrying off Mars’s lance – pick the Freud out of that. But Botticelli is also making a broader point about love conquering all – make love, not war if you like. Mars is literally disarmed after the act of love, his armour, helmet and weapons carried away while he sleeps. Continue reading

Margarito d’Arezzo – The Virgin and Child Enthroned

The Virgin and Child Enthroned, with Narrative Scenes

 Margarito d’Arezzo – The Virgin and Child Enthroned, with Narrative Scenes. About 1263-64

This is one of the earliest pictures in the National Gallery, dating as it does from the later part of the 13th century. We can see the Virgin Mary seated on a throne decorated with lions’ heads, and Christ enthroned in the lap of Mary. They’re both within an oval shape, called a Mandorla, which represents the heavenly realm, and which also contains a couple of angels swinging incense burners. Around it are the symbols of the four evangelists – Matthew the angel, John the eagle, Mark the lion and Luke the bull. We then have eight panels in the earthly realm that contain scenes from the lives of various saints.

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