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A Palette of Perspectives with Mr Quinn

Today I am here with a much-admired teacher, whom I have been so fortunate to gain an interview with.  I will ask him to interpret three paintings. The teacher that is featured today is none other than Mr Quinn, our much-appreciated history teacher. 

Let’s see what he has to say about ‘The Ambassadors’(1533) by Hans Holbein. 

Interviewer(me): ‘Hi Mr. So, we’ve got the painting ‘The Ambassadors’ by Hans Holbein… What do you think of it and the context behind it?’

Mr Quinn: “I’ve seen this before. I think it’s fascinating. I’ve taught an A-level course about Henry VIII and this came up. I think it’s fascinating because there’s so many details in there like you can see the kind of skeletal thing coming out of it. There’s so much going on and unless you know a bit of the history, you would be confused with what the message is or its significance. You can just tell by how these guys are dressed that they’re important. However, that’s an obvious detail. When you start looking at everything in the background and the globes and the musical instrument(the lute) and the book that’s opened, you can’t see it here but if you could see what page it’s opened to it reveals so much.”

Interviewer: ‘What do you think is the importance of the skull?’ 

Mr Quinn: “I think that is the significance that death is possible… well it’s not possible, death is going to happen for everything and everyone. I haven’t seen this in about 7-8 years, this source.”

Interviewer: ‘Do you think it’s Memento Mori?’ 

Mr Quinn: “Yeah, definitely, and I think it's foreshadowing!! 

Onto the second painting, Judith Slaying Holofernes’(1613-Gentileschi/1599-Caravaggio)


Version referenced: Artemisia Gentileschi 1612-1613 

Version actually shown: Caravaggio 1598-1599 

Interviewer: ‘So, now we’ve got the painting ‘Judith Slaying Holofernes’ by Artemisia Gentileschi and Caravaggio… What do you think of it and the context behind it? What do you think it is, since there’s so many interpretations of it?’ 

Mr Quinn: “Agh, haven’t seen this one before! I think it’s a medical procedure, but of course, I don’t know any of the context of this. Who is that person?” 

Interviewer: ‘So, this is Holofernes(man getting mutilated on the bed) and that is Judith(woman with the sword. I would like to see your interpretation of it before I can tell you the true story of it.’ 

Mr Quinn: “I interpret this as some kind of medical procedure because I know that they use bleeding as a medical method. Maybe she’s killing him, I don’t know. I do think that if she was killing him the reaction of both her and the old lady next to her would be very different. Their way of dressing also looks a bit like Middle Ages nurses. It’s not like he’s tied down… unless he was sleeping and they surprised him in his sleep and started to… Oh!?! What am I talking about? She’s got a sword going through his neck! That’s not a medical procedure. She’s clearly killing him when he’s surprised…” 

Interviewer: ‘Yeah… she’s killing him. I mean although this is Caravaggio, the story of Artemisia’s version is female rage being highlighted. A man in her youth sexually abused Artemisia while her friends knew and did nothing to help her, and she uses this painting as one of the many to express female rage.’ 

Mr Quinn: “You know what’s frightening? I just commented on ‘look at her demeanour, she seems so calm’ which didn’t suggest rage or some kind of punishment, but I didn’t look clearly enough to notice that it was a sword going through his neck and she’s just doing it so casually! That rage you told me about, it must’ve built up so much over time that it wasn’t enacted in a fit of rage but it was rather premeditated and planned.”  

Interviewer: ‘Yeah, that’s exactly what happened!’ 

Here comes the last painting, ‘Allegory of Hercules’ (1535) by Dosso Dossi. 

Interviewer: ‘So, we’ve got the painting ‘The Allegory of Hercules’’ by Dosso Dossi. What do you think of it and the context behind it? What do you think it is or does it represent because it’s so strange? 

Mr Quinn: “Well obviously it’s renaissance art since they're showing a woman’s… chest… he’s at the centre of attention.  It looks as if, well I can’t say if they’re learned men because the painting is a bit dark, but they’re very interested in the guy in the centre of the painting, who you said is Hercules. But, we see the sceptre which makes it appear that he is somebody of great importance. You see the guy sitting on the floor, of course, he doesn’t have a shirt on either, and he has a thing around his head like a headband. They’re having some kind of discussion or debate, although it does look as if the one woman there has an ear that looks like a non-human ear, which could represent the devil at the time. So, he’s a prince. It suggests that this prince, in this case called Hercules, is surrounded by evil and has to be careful and wary of the terrible influences.” 

Interviewer: ‘Under the girl’s chest, there’s a basket. Is that a cornucopia or just a random basket of fruit?’ 

Mr Quinn: “Well I don’t know, even with my reading glasses, I’d need my magnifying glass which is at home.” 

Mr suddenly notices something.

Mr Quinn: “Hold up, is that a face? Yeah, that’s a face…  I think that’s a head. I don’t see anybody lying down there, can’t tell if there is anyone. It looks as if there’s just a head on the carpet, which might represent that these people are questionable/evil. Also look, the other girl’s ears are also non-human. So they might all be devilish characters.” 

Interviewer: ‘Could they be fawns or something?’ 

Mr Quinn: “Could be… they’re non-humans that’s clear. He’s just happily influenced by evil or the immoral.” 

Interviewer: ‘Could this also be a reference to the church system of the time?’ 

Mr Quinn: “Umm, maybe! It’s witchcraft… I mean witchcraft during that Middle Ages/ Renaissance period was a concern, and it was almost an excuse for people to try to be good or to punish others that they perceived as bad. ‘Oh man, she’s a witch!- they had this in Europe, in America. So, I think it’s a ‘we don’t know’ situation, but as a prince, they have all sorts of influences and responsibilities, and clearly this individual is being influenced by the world around him, good and bad.”

Interviewer: ‘Thank you so much for all your help and amazing answers!’

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