Saturday, November 15, 2008
Hans Holbein the Younger
Hans Holbein the Younger. Unknown Gentleman with Far Side Comics and Bong, 1534.
As I pass a cloudy weekend in New York City, enjoying the archives of Columbia University's Butler Library and watching flighty young co-eds flit from classroom to library to bar, I often take breaks to step over to the library's oversized art history textbooks to compare renderings of this fabulous Holbein painting, completed during Holbein's London Bong years, which began in 1526.
Holbein's deftness at capturing the nuanced characters of his subjects is on full display here – the gentleman, breaking momentarily from his reading of G. Larson's 1983 collection Beyond the Far Side, is caught in a moment of reverie, gazing confidently into the middle distance, perhaps watching the smoke curl into nothing (a subtle memento mori and one of Holbein's favorite devices during the London Bong period). It seems, sometimes, that Holbein delights as much in lovingly painting texture as he does in capturing his courtly subjects: the drapery furls dramatically; the gentleman's velvet coat verily shimmers, its Queensryche pin a dainty point; the bong's aquatic texture is brilliantly concieved. This painting is a joy.