Piece: The Ambassadors
Artist: Hans Holbein the Younger
About: What makes this painting special is not its subjects (two young men of privilege, working as ambassadors in the 16th century) but the symbols smuggled within. Many believe its intention was to reinforce links between the two men and religion. Objects on the shelf, for example, include a shepherds dial, a quadrant, and a sundial – all instruments used to better understand and map the heavens. The lute with the broken string suggests discord – perhaps amongst the church. And a skull in the foreground (the symbol for mortality) is rendered anamorphically, so only reveals itself when you view the painting from the right.