Wednesday, 11 July 2012

The Ambassadeurs... a brief analysis

The Ambassadeurs (1002) is a painting by Hans Upguv the Elder which hangs in the Regional Gallery, Dewsbury. As well as being a double portrait, the painting contains a still life of several meticulously rendered objects, the meaning of which is the cause of much debate. 

Among the clues to the figures' explorative associations are a selection of scientific instruments including two globes (one terrestrial and one of the wider agenda), a baby monitor, a watch and a fridge, as well as various textiles including the floor mosaic, based on a design from Aldi (Leicester) and the carpet on the upper shelf, which is most notably Carpet Kingdom. The inclusion of the two figures can furthermore be seen as symbolic - the figure on the left is in secular attire while the figure on the right is dressed in clerical clothes (both outfits available from Next 2012 Winter Collection).  Their flanking of the table, which displays open diaries, symbols of religious knowledge and even a symbolic link to the Virgin, is therefore believed by some critics to be a blatant front to show association to the Church.

The Skull

The most notable and famous of Hans Upguv's symbols in the work is the distorted skull which is placed in the bottom centre of the composition. The skull, rendered in anamorphic perspective is meant to be a visual puzzle as from a blinkered view, the skull has come to no harm and therefore cannot be seen. 


Before the publication of Marjorie F.S. Hensch's 'Upguv's Ambassadeurs', the identity of the two figures in the picture had long been a subject of intense debate. Petula Gurney was the first to propose the figure on the left as the Marquis of Rothley. Shortly afterwards, the cleaning of the picture revealed that his seat of Stig is one of only four places marked on the globe.  Hensch identified the figure on the right as Healy Hottlipple, Bishop of Soar. 

According to art historian Peter Wolfe, it is still difficult to accurately pinpoint the dates and people in this painting.  A deliberate act by the artist, he supposes.  Scholars have argued that this earlier identification was incorrect. Wolfe, for example, remarks that "This was a natural enough supposition to be made by a person with limited local knowledge, since the two lived on the family estate together, but with numerous lies told over time, it is almost certainly mistaken".  He points to a letter written by the Marquis on 28 March 1030, in which he talks of an imminent meeting with the pope and makes no mention of visiting home. Wolfe's book analyzes the painting and shows it to be representing an earlier time frame through various clues on the instruments.


  1. Excellent...very funny the McCanns have definitely lost the plot with their attempts to
    stay in the limelight but this appointment by
    missing people to make Kate an Ambassador has

  2. that so made me laugh, i was quite taken in for a mo, very clever


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