- Paperback: 400 pages
- Publisher: Bloomsbury Academic; Rev ed. edition (1 Dec. 2004)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1852854472
- ISBN-13: 978-1852854478
- Product Dimensions: 12.9 x 3.5 x 19.8 cm
- Average Customer Review: 10 customer reviews
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 2,098,857 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
The Ambassador's Secret: Holbein and the World of the Renaissance Paperback – 1 Dec 2004
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... he provides such a compelling interpretation of an exceptionally enigmatic picture that it makes all earlier interpretations redundant.. -- FRANK WHITFORD, Sunday Times, 20 Jan. 2002
... truly sensational ... North's explanation of what The Ambassadors means is as exciting as a classic whodunnit, and puts every previous account in the shade. -- FRANK WHITFORD, Sunday Times, 20 Jan. 2002 --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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This is art history as best seller - you might not believe that descriptions of 16th century astronomical instruments will have you turning the pages for more - but they will. Like Holbein's picture, this book's details are carefully suggested and tantalisngly revealed. I would recommend it for anyone interested in art history and the intellectual life of an incredible century.
So why only four stars? Despite my respect for the author's scholarship and my admiration of the arguments, this could have been a better book. Notes apart, there are 386 pages of text, and some genteel editing could have made this book both more concise, and the arguments easier to follow. Some of the calculations and geometry are rather demanding, and the diagrams explaining them are too small, too fuzzily printed and too poorly annotated to be understood without a great deal of head scratching. More and better quality illustrations would be also very desirable; I found myself reading with a coffee-table format book Hans Holbein der Jungere (Masters of German art)open beside me.
Still, I would recommend this book to anyone interested in Holbein, in the history of science, or in the Tudor court, who doesn't mind doing a bit of hard thinking along the way. Interested readers should, if in Oxford, visit the Museum of the History of Science, which has original polyhedral sundials and other instruments, including a polyhedral sundial by Nicholas Kratzer, like those seen in the picture.
It is remarkable that it has taken almost 500 years to uncover the depth of meaning in this painting, rather like the works of Shakespeare continuing to reveal its further depths.
The only weakness in the book is the author tending towards supposition in its latter part, having previously established the facts, with liberal use of should/would/could/likely. But this does not detract from this book being the most important analysis of this painting that there has ever been.
On future visits to the National Gallery I will look at this painting from an entirely different perspective than the curious and less well informed one that I had before.
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