What do you believe?
2016 | Aluminium and Nylon | 1500 x 450 x 30 cm
This sculpture takes its inspiration from the ground-breaking work of Hans Holbein in the 17th century. It explores our almost anamorphic understanding of death and its meaning. It takes a deeper look at how the physical might translate into something deeper without a binary leap from one truth into another. If the aferlife is real, it would undoubtedly be some kind of analog transition from one reality to another, with both co-existing together.
A short history lesson
Holbein was one of the most accomplished portraitists of the 16th century. He spent two periods of his life in England (1526-8 and 1532-43), portraying the nobility of the Tudor court. Holbein's famous portrait of Henry VIII (London, National Portrait Gallery) dates from the second of these periods. 'The Ambassadors', also from this period, depicts two visitors to the court of Henry VIII. 'Christina of Denmark' is a portrait of a potential wife for the king.
Holbein was born in Augsburg in southern Germany in the winter of 1497-8. He was taught by his father, Hans Holbein the Elder. He became a member of the Basel artists' guild in 1519. He travelled a great deal, and is recorded in Lucerne, northern Italy and France. In these years he produced woodcuts and fresco designs as well as panel paintings. With the spread of the Reformation in Northern Europe the demand for religious images declined and artists sought alternative work. Holbein first travelled to England in 1526 with a recommendation to Thomas More from the scholar Erasmus. In 1532 he settled in England, dying of the plague in London in 1543.
The most notable and famous of Holbein's symbols in the work is the distorted skull which is placed in the bottom center of the composition. The skull, rendered in anamorphic perspective, another invention of the Early Renaissance, is meant to be a visual puzzle as the viewer must approach the painting nearly from high on the right side, or low on the left side, to see the form as an accurate rendering of a human skull. While the skull is evidently intended as a vanitas or memento mori, it is unclear why Holbein gave it such prominence in this painting. One possibility is that this painting represents three levels: the heavens (as portrayed by the astrolabe and other objects on the upper shelf), the living world (as evidenced by books and a musical instrument on the lower shelf), and death (signified by the skull). It has also been hypothesised that the painting is meant to hang in a stairwell, so that persons walking up the stairs and passing the painting on their left would be startled by the appearance of the skull. Artists often incorporated skulls as a reminder of mortality, or at the very least, death.