Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Hans Holbein the Younger

Hans Holbein the Younger. Portrait of the Merchant Georg Gisze, 1532.

This portrait shows Holbein at the height of his powers. The dominating figure of the sitter, silhouetted by means of just a few clear lines, forms the central focus of an interior filled with a seemingly random arrangement of objects. The angled table and the position of the sitter, turned slightly inwards, are combined into a skillful spatial composition. Holbein observes his model with the same cool, searching gaze with which the sitter looks at us.

The objects on the table reflect an enduring delight in the portrayal of still-life detail - something which Holbein inherited not just from the German painting of the 15th century, but more especially from the Netherlands.

While the individual objects - the vase of flowers, the cashbox, the items carved of wood, the four scattered joints, the books and the writing implements - may not reveal the warm luminosity so characteristic of Early Netherlandish artists from Jan van Eyck to Hugo van der Goes, Holbein nevertheless demonstrates supreme sophistication in the iridescent white heightening on the sitter's red sleeves, in the elaborate, almost palpable weave of the tablecloth, and in the shimmering glass vase.


Jan Peeters said...

I sometimes imagine being a merchant in those times. I could get lost in this painting!

Jan Peeters said...

What are you thinking, Georg, those thoughts forever buried to history? Painting can only preserve humanity up to an asymptotic limit – beyond that, all is conjecture, lost for all time.