Talk - Holbein

The popular lecturer Bryan Davies will help unravel the truth about Hans Holbein’s famous portrait of Anne of Cleves in his WEA lecture on the painter at Southover Grange. “Holbein was actually sent to paint two possible brides for Henry, one of Anne, and one of Cristina of Denmark,” he tells me, down the telephone. “Cristina didn’t seem too impressed with the idea, saying ‘if I had two heads, I would happily place one at the disposal of the king of England’. Anyway, he chose Anne of Cleves.” I wonder whether, as is often asserted, he exaggerated her beauty in the painting to encourage Henry into a politically advantageous marriage. “I think he would naturally have painted a flattering portrait anyway,” says Brian, “because that’s what portrait artists did. Anyway, he hardly made her into a startling beauty. In fact, she looks quite plain in the picture.”

Bryan’s talk will be largely based on the paintings which figured in the recent exhibition of the German artist who became Henry VIII’s court painter, at the Tate. “But there’s one painting which wasn’t at the exhibition which I’m particularly excited about,” he says. “It’s called The Ambassadors. It features two French diplomats who have come to court during the crisis over his first divorce. In the foreground is a remarkable distorted skull, which reminds the viewer that despite all the sitters’ finery and education, death is waiting for them, just as it waits for everyone else. It is an extraordinary memento mori.” AG

What might have been if Holbein had painted Anne as she really was?
Oil by Suzie Fox with apologies to HH and Willem de Kooning

Southover Grange
When? 2-5pm
How Much? £10
(t) 01273 476206/ 471148