the Ambassadors v. the Ambassadors

April 4th, 2011

In “the Ambassadors” by Henry James, we are presented with a lead character, Strether, who’s attributes seem to fall short in comparison to his mind.  James uses Strether’s mind and thoughts as the true focus of his work.  The other characters aren’t really described, and when they are – they are described through the vision and thoughts of Strether himself.  In the painting by Holbein entitled, “the Ambassadors,” we are given an image of two men standing around rather prestigious items, and on the floor lie a skull that has been misshapen.  One could argue that the two men are Strether and his friend Waymarsh (Waymarsh being the fancier dressed one) but that is all speculation.  The items that surround them could also be representations of the men in the novel and their love for certain aspects. The only thing that is precisely linked between the novel and the painting is the title, “the Ambassadors.”  The most interesting and almost confusing part of the painting is the infamous skewed skull which lies by the men’s feet.  This is a perfect representation of “anamorphosis” which is the evolution of one type of organism from another by a long series of gradual changes (  In order for anyone to see this image, they have to see the painting completely from the side to see it truly become a skull; when facing it, it is an unidentifiable object with no true meaning.  Although I have looked it up and there is no true answer to what the skull represents, the wikipedia article on the painting gives it a “memento mori” which is Latin for, “Remember, you must die.”  If that was the intentions of the painter Holbein, and what James has in store for his book, than it is foreshadowing the inevitable death of someone or something.

In “the Ambassadors,” at least within the two books we have read for class, we have to often alternate between the scenario that is going on and the picture that is being painting for us.  The picture of the storyline gives us the stepping stones for the scenes of action that are going to be giving to us.  James uses this system and his beautiful use of the written word to have the reader engage in a specific strategy for reading his works in order to have them open their consciousness and use their center.  The first person and omniscient narrator techniques make us open our center-of-consciousness in order to really grasp and understand what is going on, which I’m sure is exactly what others were doing with the painting by Holbein; opening up their minds to try and see a distinct connection between the painting and the story, which is just unfortunately not possible.

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2 Responses to “the Ambassadors v. the Ambassadors”

  1. Dominique Zino on April 5, 2011 9:14 am

    Jackie- The “momento mori” concept will be important as we keep reading…so continue to hold that in your mind. I would double check the definition of “anamorphosis” though–try doing one more search.

    Very curious to see what you’ll have to say in your follow-up to this post next week…nice work.

  2. porcelain veneers tulsa on November 8, 2015 10:47 am

    porcelain veneers tulsa

    the Ambassadors v. the Ambassadors at A Walking Contradiction…

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