The Ambassadors: The Mysteries of Holbein’s Masterpiece

The Ambassadors: The Mysteries of Holbein’s Masterpiece

Who were the two wealthy, educated and powerful-looking young gentlemen in Hans Holbein the Younger's vast masterpiece? In 1890, when the National Gallery acquired what has become one of their most popular paintings, no one was quite sure.

They were also uncertain of what was meant by the array of cryptically arranged objects across the canvas -- amongst them, a lute with a snapped string, a book of arithmetic, and a strange white form dominating the foreground that, when viewed at a particular angle, reveals itself to be a startling skull.

We now know that the men represent ambassadors Jean de Dinteville and Georges de Selve. However, the painting, wrought by King Henry VIII's court painter in 1533, still holds many mysteries. Join expert Susan Foister at the gallery to decode some of the symbols in Holbein's canvas which could point to the societal turmoil incited by the notorious Tudor King.

Time Period:

16th century


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