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Posts Tagged ‘Henry VIII’

Embarkation_of_Henry_VIII at Dover- Basire PrintI saw this painting on a PBS program about Henry VIII and Hampton Court.  It’s a massive painting, nearly 5 1/2 feet tall by 11 feet  long, titled The Embarkation of Henry VIII at Dover, commissioned by the king to commemorate a 1520 meeting at Calais with him and French king Francis I.  It was a goodwill mission of sorts, trying to increase the bonds of friendship between the countries after a recent treaty.  Of course, only a couple of years later they were at war.  But while diplomacy may have failed at least an epic piece of art came from the whole thing.

The painting has been attributed to a number of painters over the ages, most notably Han Holbein, though nowadays its maker is listed as unknown.  But what a dynamic and energetic painting!  The color is bold and bright and the composition filled with movement throughout.  I love the exaggeration of size and scale, which gives the epic scene have a more personal, human feel.

I woke up thinking about this painting.  It makes me want to get out the stretcher bars and canvas and start another big piece. I know that they are not practical in many ways but there is something in the sheer size and space that just excites me and starts the creative fountain.

We’ll see…

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Holbein-SirThomasMoreYou run across a lot of people who are completely dismissive of anything from the past.  They feel that we at the moment are the leading edge of humanity’s progress, that we are the culmination of all that has come before us and thus, anything created long before our time can not have equal value  now.  There’s this sense that only the modern can fully express the complexity of our world.

When I see this painting of Sir Thomas More painted by Hans Holbein in around 1527 I realize what  flawed logic that is.  

Here is a painting that was painted nearly 500 years ago that, when seen in person at the Frick in NYC, has surfaces that are absolutely beautiful.  It still glows with its sumptuous colors.  All the years of technical progress have not produced materials that could accomplish any more than Holbein did with the materials of his time.

holbein_henryviiiI could stand and look at this piece for hours, marveling not only at the beauty of the paint but at the way Holbein captured More’s humanity and the sense of the time in which it was painted.  For me, this painting really illustrates, gives life to, an important figure in history.  More was the ultimate man of conscience, refusing to give in to Henry VIII‘s will that he endorse Henry’s divorce from Catherine of Aragon so that he might marry Anne Boleyn.  It ultimately cost him his head and cost the world a wonderful mind, one that gave us the concept of Utopia.

It is obvious to me that Holbein felt warmly towards More in the way the piece is painted and the way he captures his persona.  In the painting Holbein  did of Henry VIII (on the left) I get a different sense.  It’s meant to be large and strong, to be a display of regal power and that it is.  But there’s a coldness in the piggish eyes and an arrogance in the stance.  Oh, it’s a beautiful painting, on many levels, but when you compare the two it’s obvious where Holbein’s sympathies lay.

This is art and history coming together at single points.  It captures the humanity that is contained in all of us and remains unchanged even to the edge of our time.  Good stuff.  No, great stuff…

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