Holbein: Capturing Character

Last night I went to the Morgan Library’s new exhibit on Hans Holbein the Younger, who lived and worked in England during the reign of King Henry VIII. The exhibit was titled “Capturing Character,” and, as a writer, it was fascinating to have a chance to look closely at these paintings. Simply looking at the way Holbein paints hands is a revelation. One woman was tense, one man clutched a motto. Then there were the sumptuous clothes. And the faces, of course, which looked like they might start talking to me at any moment.

Sir Thomas More

This painting of Sir Thomas More is one I’ve often seen in books, but to see it up close is an incredible experience. His red sleeves are the most beautiful color I’ve ever seen. Notice his intent gaze, and his salt and pepper hair, and the Tudor rose on his chain.

Mary, Lady Guildford

Then here with have Mary, Lady Guilford. She’d holding a religious book, and she has a sprig of rosemary in her bodice. According to the exhibition notes, her expression is one of piety, but it doesn’t seem so to me. I feel like she’s found fault with me and is waiting to tell me what I’ve done wrong.

Then here we have jewels that were designed to be added to books! Can you imagine. I’d like a nice little gold bauble to attach to my copy of Maggie Dove.

Do you have any favorite portraits? Do you ever look at paintings and imagine you could talk to that person. Join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter.

Susan Breen is the author of the Maggie Dove mystery series. Her stories have been published in Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine and Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine. The MWA anthology, Crime Hits Home, in which she has a story, just won an Anthony Award. She teaches novel-writing at Gotham Writers and is on the staff of the New York Write to Pitch Conference. www.susanjbreen.com

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