Holbein's The AmbassadorsGood Friday 1533 (11th April) was an important day for Anne Boleyn. It was the day on which Henry VIII informed his Council that Anne was his rightful wife and Queen and she should be accorded with Royal honours.

Catherine of Aragon had already been demoted to Dowager Princess of Wales after convocation had ruled that the dispensation allowing Henry VIII to marry his brother’s widow should never have been granted. Although Archbishop Cranmer was still organising a special trial into the annulment proceedings, Catherine was out and Anne was in.

You may wonder why I have illustrated this post with Hans Holbein the Younger’s “The Ambassadors”, an amazing puzzle in a portrait of two ambassadors: Jean de Dinteville, maître d’hôtel to Francis I of France, and George de Selve, Bishop of Lavaur. Well, the date of the 11th April 1533 is recorded in various places in this painting – on the celestial globe, the quadrant and the cylinder sundial – and historian Eric Ives believes that the painting is linked to Anne Boleyn and may even have been commissioned by her.

Clues to the link with Anne Boleyn include:-

  • The painting was painted when Holbein was working on Mount Parnassus for Anne’s coronation.
  • It was painted at the time when Anne was being recognised as Queen and preparing for her coronation.
  • The date of the 11th April in the painting which coincides with Anne being recognised as Queen.
  • The cosmati pavement whic Ives believes to mirror that of Westminster Abbey and “the precise spot where Anne Boleyn was anointed Queen”.1
  • Jean de Dinteville’s links with Anne, their shared interest in evangelical reform, in the French ‘fashion’, and his role at her coronation. Ives ponders if Dinteville is actually depicted in his coronation outfit.
  • The theme of the painting – Religious division but the hope of unity.

You can read more about Holbein’s “The Ambassadors” in the following series of articles:-

Also on this day in history…

Notes and Sources

  1. The Life and Death of Anne Boleyn, Eric Ives, p235

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11 thoughts on “11 April 1533 – Anne Boleyn and Henry VIII Triumphant”
  1. Thanks for the post, Claire. I love this thought-provoking painting.

    I personally believe Jean de Dinteville commissioned this painting for Anne’s coronation (by her favorite painter Holbein). What an amazing gift that would have been from the French Ambassador!

    I like to view the painting in three dimensions:

    1st dimension – The past – The crucifix is “behind” the men and partially covered representing past religious superstitions and religious reform.

    2nd dimension – The current movement – all the various scientific/musical instruments represent a new spiritual/scientific enlightenment.

    3rd dimension – The future – the skull represents certain death that is inevitable for all “momento mori”.

    I did have a question, Claire. What role did Jean de Dinteville have in Anne’s coronation? Thanks!

    1. Hi Leslie,
      Dinteville was Francis I’s personal representative at Anne’s coronation and was “the overt symbol of French support”. His servants led the processions and he took precedence over all the other dignitaries apart from the Lord Mayor of London. Eric Ives writes about this in his article “The Queen and the Painters: Anne Boleyn, Holbein and Tudor Royal Portraits”, Apollo Magazine, July 1994, p39. Have you read John North’s book on the painting?

      1. Hi Claire,

        Thanks for answering my question! Dinteville certainly had an important role. I’ll have to check out the article you mentioned.

        I read also today that Dinteville took this painting with him back to France. Is this true? This certainly does make me lean toward the theory that he commissioned the painting.

        I haven’t read John North’s book – thanks for the tip, I will look into it!

        1. Yes, it was taken back to Dinteville’s home, the Chateau of Polisy, and that is used to argue that it was Dinteville who commissioned it. Olivia Peyton who runs an Anne Boleyn Facebook page believes that it may have been commissioned by Anne Boleyn for Marguerite of Navarre but that it was too controversial to be displayed in her home or the French court. What makes me think that it was commissioned by Anne is its sheer size and the fact that Anne was acting as a patron of Holbein’s at this time, plus the date and the religious messages.

      2. Thank you, Leslie and Claire so very much, as to the location, as in Ives’ book, pg. 234, it does have this painting as Plate 44, and explains with detailed notations as in Plate 44 being also notated as 21, National Gallery,no 1314. Fo the folllowing see Ives, ‘Apolo, 140 (1994), 39-40. Of the substantial literature, se, pincipally, S. Foister, A., Roy and M. Wyld, ‘Holbein’s Ambassadors (1997); Rowland’d, ‘Paintings,’ pp. 85-87, 139-140; Elly Dekker and Kristen Lippincott, ‘The Scientific insturements in Holbiein’s Ambassadors: a re-examination,’, in ‘Journal of the Warburg adn Courtald Institutes, 62 (1999), 93-125.” and on the explanation and investigation culminating on p. 235 in “The Lfie and Death of Anne Boleyn,” “Given that Holbein was also of a reformist ist turn of mind, the religous message in “Ambassadors’ was a common sitter, artist and artist’s patrons alike. Footnote 30, “de Sale left left England too soon to have much detail input too the painting, and his religious position less clear, though he does seem to have written in favour of accomodation with the German reformers.”

        I thank you, Claire for its current location, and also that I may never finish Ives’s work and consider it my bible on Anne as you. It also is plain that when you say you examine primary resources; you EXAMINE them! I, otherwise would not have taken the time or effort to write out the annotations (as we know that one should type the annotations and bilbliographies, as after the thesis or dissertation is finished that it the last thing we want to do. Computers are like humans, in that we can go back and change things, but that that part is finished oh, what a relief it is!

        Also once again, going back to our undergraduate skills, and along the way having to delve, take courses, etc. into other areas in order to prove (along, of course, with pre-defense and defense, not to mention begging for our Committee which is in the same form and of such work as to educate us so totally on what we are going to use as our our instrument, then in data collection with inferrential statistics, et cetra).

        Claire only proves that her education with know how to read annotations and primary sources are all about what she writes and displays on this site. We are very fortunate to have her, as well as a commentator and the best of moderators as well! Thank you! WilesWales

  2. I’ve always loved the symbolism in this portrait. Makes me wish I knew about them all. Thanks!

  3. Claire Very good read ,wish i could hands on one of the portraits or at least a print. Have a Great Day All. Baroness

  4. I had read about the symbolism of the painting before but had never heard it linked to Anne. What a fascinating idea! It would certainly fit in with all her interests and beliefs.
    Thanks Claire.

  5. Claire,I love all the wonderfull portraits on the site,i collect antiques and came on a great find of Rembrbandt Van Rijin 1606-1669 Rijinmuseum-Amsterdam Joods Bruidje,The Bridal Couple(the ,,Jewish Bride” Les fiance”s (la ” Fianc’ee juive” Das Brautpaar (die juidische Braut ” ) Can you find any of these potraits in print on your site??If so let me no. Thank You Claire

  6. Claire,I just got your BOOK!! I love the way you write and have all the facts right on,reading all the labels that Queen Anne ,was as you write WRONGLY GIVEN 17 counts! I had to laugh that it was said, she had 100 lovers were did she find the time to poison scades of people, also being a Bitch and a Witch takes up alot of time,kidnapping children good greaf, were did she find the time to keep up with Henry VI I I, he was a high maintance King. OUTSTANDING READ!!!!! Much Thanks Baroness

  7. As for the research suggestion regarding the skull in Holbein’s Ambassadors, proposing it could be Anne Boleyn’s after her beheading on May 19, 1536, Holbein and she shared very similar religious views, both advocating for a profound reform of the Catholic Church, as did Jean de Dinteville and Georges de Selve, the two painted characters. Could this skull anamorphosis have been added to the foreground after Anne Boleyn’s beheading as a painful memory by those who supported her cause?
    Warmly regards from Cormery.
    Jacky LORETTE

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