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Painting by Hans Holbein, the Younger depicting two ambassadors from Pope Clement VII sent to Henry VIII of England to help resolve the situation that arose when Henry married Anne Boleyn. By looking at the sundials and other scientific instruments on the top shelf in the painting, experts have concluded that scene takes place at 10:30 AM on April 11, 1533. The two ambassadors, Jean de Dinteville and George de Selve, are standing on opposite sides of a shelf full of advanced scientific and musical instruments. Near the floor between the ambassadors lies an anamorphosis, which is a deliberately distorted skull.

I believe that in this painting Holbein was showing the briefness of human endeavors. Next to all of these symbols of human achievement, such as the instruments and the clothing, he quietly shows us four emblems of that briefness. These emblems are the crucifix partially hidden behind the curtain, the broken string on the lute, the human skull on the badge on Dinteville’s hat, and the anamorphosis. By combining this symbolism with an accurate depiction of an important event in history, Holbein created a masterpiece of Renaissance art.

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