Ambassadors: the secret of the green curtain

Regardless of how sharp the angle from which you watch the skull is, its proportions will remain distorted in such a way that the viewer would want to go just an inch behind the painting to see it properly. But no viewer would be able to do it. The place from which the skull can be seen as REAL would be where the small crucifix is painted, just behind the green curtain, that is, from the kingdom of heaven!

Now you understand why the small crucifix is going to be painted where Holbein wants to paint it:

The Lord is not just watching you in whatever earthly affairs you are engaged, only He can see things as they truly are.

You and your bishop friend are impressed. There are only a few details you think important to talk through,

First, you want the globe to show your castle (Holbein: “Done!”) and then you want the globe to reflect that the world’s destiny today is being decided in Rome. That makes Holbein think for a minute. 

– I’ll have Rome at the geometrical centre of the globe, he finally decides.

After that, you discuss the items to be placed on the shelf to be painted between you and the bishop, and the meaning of each of them: the broken string of the flute, the Quadrant, the math book, the Sundial, and – voila – you learn a few secrets of the court Holbein overheard while painting portraits of German merchants and noble English ladies. You learn that Henry VIII plans to publicly annul his marriage to Catherine and crown his new wife.

What you don’t know yet is that in about five weeks the world, as you knew it, will end.  

The marriage with Catherine of Aragon, the Spanish wife, will be annulled. Anne Boleyn will be crowned. The Pope will excommunicate Henry VIII. The Church of England will be separated from the Roman Catholic Church. And then some years later Anne Boleyn will be executed and you’ll be there, present at the beheading.

You will never marry, and you will spend your time managing the small province the King gave your father, splitting your time between it and a few more ambassadorial duties to England.

And the best decision that you’ve ever made in your life would turn out to be the one when you commissioned a portrait from a German artist named Ioannes, who will become famous as Hans Holbein the Younger.

PS If you want to learn a bit more about Holbein, and see some of his rather funny drawings,  click  here. If you like the story, but would like to see it properly edited, drop me a note (I would love to have it properly edited). 


  1. I haven’t had as much time looking at an artwork since my class in Humanities in college. Good Job!

    1. I wonder why I haven’t thanked you for this comment earlier. I am sorry. This is the kind of comment that is the highest praise and motivation for me to continue writing about art. Thank you!

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