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Holbein the Younger, the Merchant Georg Gisze

Video transcript

we're in the game elder gallery in Berlin and we're looking at Hans Colvin's portrait of georg giza Hanseatic merchant lets a lot of information so here's what that means the Hanseatic League was a group of merchants that about 300 years before this portrait was made got together and said we need to work together so that we can avoid pirates so that we can avoid princes who wanted to take advantage of us and this was a group did a lot of business in London and Georg Issa is coming from Danzig what is now Poland and is working in an office in London England and hope I painted many of the businessmen of the Hanseatic League this was likely the first in a series of those portraits and perhaps hope I was showing off about what he could do as a portraitist hoping to get more business there is something about the material nature of the objects and whole lines ability to render them so exactly it really speaks to this culture that is now paying attention to the wealth of objects we think that this portrait was intended for his bride-to-be and so there is this interest in veracity not only in the likeness of the figure but also in the accoutrement of his life that define him as a person in the world it feels a little bit like this painting is more about the things in his office than it is about him it's as if his identity is formed by his employee as a merchant I see all the signs of how he does business his letters his contracts his scissors his pen is stamps at the same time is also a reminder that the material world is not all there is that's right and we actually see some explicit symbols relating to the notion of mortality and the passage of time for instance you had mentioned the tools of his business and if we look in the very front of the painting we can see a quill we can see money in a small metal container we can see some of the unused sealing wax in that little red stick on the extreme right and then there's a small clock and the clock of course is an expression of a certain degree of wealth but also business man's concerned with time but it also has a moral dimension as you mentioned and this is about the passage of time the passage of life and that idea is made even more strongly if we look at that beautiful glass venetian vase that is so transparent and is so beautifully depicted by Holbein those carnations and the fragile glass Vaz that they're in or a memento mori a reminder of death of the fragility of life and not only that but of the insignificance of these activities these day-to-day things that one does to make money and get somewhere in the world and yet those are the things that are really being emphasized so there's an inherent contradiction here there's a reminder of the transience of the things that are here being celebrated and it is a wonderful kind of contradiction it's a wonderful kind of tangle that clearly the artist and the patron were fully aware of