Book Section2022-04-19
Oren Margolis

The Book Half Open

Humanist Friendship in Holbein’s Portrait of Hermann von Wedigh III
A small, blind-tooled volume sits on a table covered in green baize: one clasp is open, the other is closed; and a slip of paper emerges from it reading Veritas odium parit (truth breeds hatred). This detail occurs in the foreground of a portrait by Hans Holbein of a young man identified as the Cologne patrician Hermann von Wedigh III (Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York). A study of the physical features of the book and of the history of the brief text — actually an ancient and then Erasmian adage — leads to a new interpretation of the painting in the context of humanist friendship. The book is seen to be a multivalent simile for the work of art authored by the artist as well as for the sitter himself, raising questions about the implications for these of a medium that can be opened and closed. The half-open condition of the book is understood to reflect the complementary pressures of openness and closedness, accessibility and intimacy, that characterized the Renaissance republic of letters.
Title
The Book Half Open
Subtitle
Humanist Friendship in Holbein’s Portrait of Hermann von Wedigh III
Author(s)
Oren Margolis
Identifier
Description
A small, blind-tooled volume sits on a table covered in green baize: one clasp is open, the other is closed; and a slip of paper emerges from it reading Veritas odium parit (truth breeds hatred). This detail occurs in the foreground of a portrait by Hans Holbein of a young man identified as the Cologne patrician Hermann von Wedigh III (Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York). A study of the physical features of the book and of the history of the brief text — actually an ancient and then Erasmian adage — leads to a new interpretation of the painting in the context of humanist friendship. The book is seen to be a multivalent simile for the work of art authored by the artist as well as for the sitter himself, raising questions about the implications for these of a medium that can be opened and closed. The half-open condition of the book is understood to reflect the complementary pressures of openness and closedness, accessibility and intimacy, that characterized the Renaissance republic of letters.
Is Part Of
Place
Berlin
Publisher
ICI Berlin Press
Date
19 April 2022
Subject
adages
books in paintings
classical reception
Erasmus of Rotterdam
Hans Holbein the Younger
Northern Renaissance
Terence
Rights
© by the author(s)
Except for images or otherwise noted, this publication is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.
Language
en-GB
page start
289
page end
310
Source
Openness in Medieval Europe, ed. by Manuele Gragnolati and Almut Suerbaum, Cultural Inquiry, 23 (Berlin: ICI Berlin Press, 2022), pp. 289–310
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