Monday, March 05, 2007


The reading for the day in Bennet and Royle was all about Wordsworth's Prelude and how movies make us see ourselves seeing. Apparently, no art of any sort before movies made us think about art as art, about perspective, time, and such. Thank the Flying Spaghetti Monster for movies!

Too bad no one thought to let Holbein know! I get frustrated when someone looks at stuff from the 20th century and thinks that no one had a brain before 1901, can you tell? Yeah, lots of new technology, and lots to play with about that new technology, but people played with lots of ideas in just about any century or age you can imagine.

Holbein's Ambassadors is everyone's favorite picture to demonstrate anamorphosis, the strategy of using a radical change in formation (or deformation) that forces the viewer of a piece of art to look from an oblique angle or use a mirror or other means of seeing. It's just one strategy to make the viewer think about him/herself as viewing, as having to take a stand and think about perspective.

In The Ambassadors, that blob at the lower part of the picture, next to the charming shoes (Look, early Earth Shoes!), is an anamorphic skull. If you look at the picture from way low on your left (or way high on your right, which is easier with my computer screen), and look up at the blob, you see that it's a skull. It's way more fun than reading The Prelude. I may be biased. (Romanticists everywhere are preparing nasty comments; or they would be except they all secretly hate The Prelude anyways. Kidding, folks!)

Few people are aware that Holbein was actually a big Silence of the Lambs fan, but this homage to the poster provides clear evidence. Or maybe he was into Dali?

NB. If you are a student, please think hard before you use that last paragraph. And be sure to cite my site! Here's how!


  1. xensen9:41 PM

    There's another skull on the cap of the figure on the left. You can see it (sort of) in this image.

  2. Is that really a skull on his cap? It's so small....

    It's funny how many people walk right by it and don't even notice the skull until someone lays down on the floor and makes a big scene about it.

    (I wish I had tried taking a picture of the skull! How clever...)

  3. I really do like the Prelude. I also know that I'm not normal :)

    The "before the technology we have now there was no meta-thinking about technology and representation" thing irritates me, too. Printing is a technology. Writing itself is a technology.

    The skull is cool!

  4. Anonymous11:09 AM

    I love the MLA citation site! Oooo! I've been looking for that forever. Where did you find it? delagar

  5. I've adored Holbein for years and did my art history project on him. Looking at English portrait painting before and after Holbein's time as court painter has always been telling in my view. To bad he had to make Ann of Cleves look more the looker than she was!

  6. I just finished reading Jonathan Goldberg's "Dover Cliff and the Conditions of Representation: King Lear 4:6 in Perspective" in which he posits that The Cliff scene in Lear was a deliberate investigation of various theories of perspective. So, an audience not only seeing ourselves seeing (through analog with Gloucester), but seeing ourselves seeing from several physical and philosophical angles at once.

    But, it must be film that came along to clear that up for us.