Comparing the Ambassadors
Sunday April 10th 2011, 5:20 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

After finishing the book the Ambassadors and then going back to the painting of the Ambassadors by Holebin i still found the many same similarties as i had the after the first time when i had approached these two topics.

The one thing that i had missed in the first view of the painting was the skull on the floor. Which we learned in class is referred to as an  anamorphosis .  I learned that many things in Holebin’s painting is in one way or another a replica to the things in James’ book and the skull plays as not just a skull but a very important symbol and theme in the book.

In my previous post I had thought the painting was invented after the book. I also felt that they were in some way connected to one another but when i learned they were not meaning the painting was not painted with the image of Stether in mind. However I learned that James based his book and the chratcters, events, and storyline according to Holebin’s painting.

In the painting it has painted the image of two men, one wealthy and the other not so wealthy, James had used that to create his characters. One of the major themes in the book is rich versus poor.  Most of his characters have the wealth seperating them from one another.

I also had seen many maps, compasses and globes in the painting, and in James’ book we learn the enitre book takes place in the understanding of Europe and America, the entire book is about the exploration of Europe through the Americans.

When viewing the two men it is clear that James based his characters on the painting because Strether’s character is resembled by  the image of the less wealthy and unhappy man. Throughout the enitire book Strether is unhappy and in search for self revelation.

The skull plays a big role in the book because when Strether meets little Bilham, he tells Strether to live life to the fullest. The skull represents death and so i think the image relates to the book in that Strether is alive but not “living” He needs to learn to live. Which he learns at the end of the book.

The skull isnt only a way Strether can learn to live life  but also a kind of summary for us as readers. I mean throughout the book I wondered what the skull stood for and then I realized that that was the purpose of the skull. In the early Renaissance such paintings were done so that the painting was a puzzle to the viewer and only after viewing it through a different angle were the viewers able to understand the painting. The same goes for Strether’s case, throughout the entire book he is looking at life through all perspectives and then finally it clicks and he learns what life is.


“However I learned that James based his book and the chratcters, events, and storyline according to Holebin’s painting.” Careful about aligning these too closely, Betty — James had already completed the novel by the time he saw “The Ambassadors” at the National Gallery in London. The releveation that these men were in fact French ambassadors, that they had been mislabeled all along, seems to have been the thing that peaked his interest and got him thinking about the relationship between the painting and his novel.


Comment by    Dominique 04.12.11 @ 11:59 am