on 6 February 2002
This was a remarkable book, not only as an in-depth study of Holbein's life and works, but also of the age in which he lived. It was fascinating to discover how much Holbein's working life was influenced by the momentous changes of the Reformation which were taking place in Europe at the time, and how this personally affected the artist. Wilson shows the reader how Holbein's personal feelings can be detected in his paintings, despite working for patrons who perhaps did not share his beliefs. Through cyphers and cryptic codes, the artist reflects upon the the characters in the paintings and the age in which they were living. Indeed, almost every item in his pictures, whether it is a vase of flowers, a pair of scissors etc is pregnant with meaning. It is so unfortunate that some of these codes and symbols are lost to us today.
Holbein's character is harder to define, and there are only tantalising glimpses of the man himself, generally reported of by his contemporaries, such as the time when one of his patrons annoyed him so much that he threw him down the stairs! Sadly, we do not know the name of this unfortunate!
Holbein's career never regained its momentum after the execution of his most important patron Thomas Cromwell, and the story ends abruptly with his mysterious death (possibly from plague), and one of the most sought-after artists of the age lies somewhere in an unmarked grave - a sad and early end to a brilliant man. Wilson's work is a masterpiece of detective work, not only on the details of Holbein's life, but on the Europe of the 16th century, and the men who shaped its future.
on 2 August 2009
After reading this book Holbein remains an "unknown man." Wilson has done a fine job here but the fact remains that real knowledge of Holbein the man is far too thin on the ground to warrant a full biography. Still, this book is thoroughly researched and well written and Wilson does a good job of placing Holbein in the context of the social and religious upheaval of the times. I learned a lot, if not necessarily about Holbein as a human being, and I'd recommend the book to anyone who wants to learn about Holbein's circle and the wider issues of the age. If you crave Holbein, his methods and his thinking, then buy "The Ambassadors' Secret."