|Sir Thomas Wyatt, the Younger - a lost Holbein (?)|
Friday, 28 September 2012
What lies beyond our memory's confines.
Recently, I have been discussing all sorts of everything with a close friend and we came to discussing a lost Holbein that came up for sale a few years ago in London. The work, a painting of Thomas Wyatt the Younger, has proved contentious over the years with various scholars over the years arguing over the veracity of the picture. Certainly, Sir Roy Strong, the leading art historian of Tudor and Jacobean portraiture considered it to be a Holbein, however, Dr. Susan Foister of the National Gallery has declined to pass comment upon the picture. To me, a mere enthusiast with admittedly no training nor qualification in the history of art, but only saddled with an enthusiasm for mediaeval culture, literature, art and architecture have read the Weiss catalogue in which the portrait is illustrated. With this, and having read various works on Holbein, I cast my own thoughts and opinions. I too, in my humble opinion, believe this painting to be a true Holbein. The reasons vary from my understanding of Holbein's work to an understanding of his style, technique and some of the more complex reasonings presented by professional art historians as to it's veracity. Certainly it is atypical of his work in terms of construct, but Holbein was, in many ways, avant garde without always conforming to strict confining regimen of his day. Surely it should be a matter of celebration to have re-discovered a work by one of the greatest artists in the 16th century in England rather than condemn it to obscurity.
Currently I am reading The Book of Lost Books by Stuart Kelly, who has captured my interest and indulged my fascination in lost works by telling his history of literature and poetry through a series of chapters named after a relevant author contemporary to the period which he is discussing. Equally so, it will be hard for even the most hardened bibliophile to not feel his or her eyes becoming moist at the tremendous sense of loss we have endured throughout history. Furthermore, how much of the basis of our understanding of our times, both ancient and more recent, are based upon guesswork, assumption, speculation and possibly the element of hope that exists deep within our souls - part of that very essence which makes us human. The ecstatic sense of discovery, when a lost work of those who came and went before is rediscovered; and how, through that rediscovery, whether read or realised or even recognised, by the many or the very few, can reach out and touch our lives. This can be in relation to a lost painting, such as one of the beauty of the Holbein above, or a lost poem by Pindar which was found torn up in the scrap heaps in Oxyrhynchus. Such discoveries should enthrall as much as inspire us, for they are glimpses into our past which (sadly) can never be revisited in both body and soul - only through speculation, imagination, reconstruction and an endeavour at understanding can they be, albeit tentatively, recreated.