Holbein’s Wit

Alice Read's picture
November 16, 2022
United Kingdom
Subject Fields: 
Art, Art History & Visual Studies

Holbein’s Wit

Date: 16 November 2022

Time: 6:00 – 8:00 pm

Location: Paul Mellon Centre and Online

Speaker: Alexander Marr

This talk will address the tactical ambiguity of Hans Holbein the Younger (1497/8–1543)'s art as a form of wit. In a number of important pictures, including The AmbassadorsPortrait of Georg Gisze and Lady with a Squirrel and a Starling, Holbein deployed verbal-cum-visual puns to draw attention to his sitters’ and his own ingenuity (ingenium). The productive ambiguity of his pictures will be set within the context of learned wit and serio ludere, particularly Erasmian wordplay and certain topoi of mimesis. This will afford an opportunity to reassess Holbein’s treatment of the relationship between skill, character and identity.


Alexander Marr is Professor of Renaissance and Early Modern Art at the University of Cambridge and a Fellow of Trinity Hall, where he is Dean of Discipline. He specialises in European art and architecture ca. 1400–ca. 1800, especially their intellectual, literary and scientific aspects. His awards include a Philip Leverhulme Prize (2008), a European Research Council Consolidator Grant (2013) and a Paul Mellon Centre Senior Fellowship. His books include: Rubens’s Spirit: From Ingenuity to Genius (2021); Logodaedalus: Word Histories of Ingenuity in Early Modern Europe (2018); Between Raphael and Galileo: Mutio Oddi and the Mathematical Culture of Late Renaissance Italy (2011); Curiosity and Wonder from the Renaissance to the Enlightenment (2006). He is currently writing a monograph on Hans Holbein the Younger and ingenuity (Holbein’s Wit) and editing Richard Haydocke’s translation of Lomazzo’s Trattato for the Modern Humanities Research Association (MHRA). 

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