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Tuesday, 7 August 2012

Anna Meyer from the Darmstadt Madonna by Hans Holbein the Younger

Many years ago I came across this beautiful sketch of a young girl of wealthy family in one of my books. It is by Hans Holbein the Younger. Today, quite by accident while referencing something else - such is serendipity and life - I came across her, and the suggestive patterning of embroidered bands on her robe again. She is Anna Meyer daughter of a burgermeister of Basel. Here she sits with downturned eyes, in that diffident, rather slouched pose that adolescents seem the world over and throughout time to assume, aware only that much is being made of her hair, which seems to have a life independent of her. She is told it is her treasure and people remark on it and fuss on it all the time, not bothering themselves at all with the emotions and thoughts that curl and knot beneath it. Well, having found it again I could, this time with the instant google-tools we now have available,  discover more about her.

The sketch was made for a painting which wasn't completed until some years later in 1526 when Anna had metamorphosed from adolescent to marriageable young woman. The gold of her hair is darkened with time and only a suggestion of its glory is now hinted at by the demure and appropriate tease of luxuriant plait on display between the thickly wrought bands encircling her head. Now she has the self-knowing look of womanhood. She has disciplined herself away from slouch to the fashionable sway back pose. perhaps as interesting for me and you is the transformation of those suggested embroidered bands on her robe.
Now we can see them in much more detail and, to some extent, link them with exemplar bands we have seen on early samplers. Below you can see the completed work, The Darmstadt Madonna, in entirety. Anna's dead mother is shown in covered up profile to the left of her stepmother. Her father and two little brothers, who were both dead at the time this portait was completed are seen on the left. All are posed on a fabulously detailed eastern carpet at the foot of the Madonna.

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