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The Mysterious Ambassadors


The Ambassadors - the history behind the painting of Holbein's The Ambassadors.The Ambassadors At The National Gallery

It is just amazing. You can see them casually standing, waiting for you, on an end wall through several linking rooms. Two friends, in all their brilliant finery. They are very patient. Don’t appear to be in a hurry. But I suppose when you are at the king’s disposal, time is not your own. And Jean de Dinteville was the unhappy representative of King Francis I of France at Henry VIII’s turbulent court. He seemed to have spent much of this visit, in 1533, waiting for the coronation of Anne Boleyn on 1st June. An intriguing time as they had already married in secret in January before Henry divorced Catherine. As well as ordering thirty tons of Gascon wine to shield de Dinteville against the best of England’s cold and damp, he would no doubt have been instrumental in the negotiations that led to Francis I being godfather to their new born child, Elizabeth.

His friend, Georges de Selve, a bishop of Lavaur in southwest France, apparently made a secret appearance at this time. And how better to celebrate a secret meeting, “which was no small pleasure” to de Dinteville, than to have one of the most iconic images of the time painted in its memory – that which we now call The Ambassadors.

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