Portrait of Simon George of Cornwall, ca. 1535–40

The English nobleman Simon George used this painting to ask the hand of a young lady befitting his social status in marriage: the red carnation was the traditional symbol of such a request. In the breast of this elegant man with the porcelain complexion, however, there lies more passion than is initially apparent – as we know from a hidden clue. But one thing at a time: what do you see at first sight? A masterfully painted portrait, a typical Holbein – a work by the artist of Basel who was appointed painter to the court of Henry VIII in 1536.

He worked precisely and accurately and was capable of reproducing all kinds of surfaces with the finest degree of realism, as we see here, for example, in the outer garment of black silk with its velvet collar and quilted ornament on the sleeve. The headdress with the feather and appliqués is likewise admirably well executed. There we find a decorative oval clasp bearing the unusual motif of Leda and the Swan. With the scene in which Jupiter, father of the gods, takes the form of a swan and unites with Princess Leda, the portrait subject reveals his secret wishes. Red carnation in hand, he politely courts a possible marriage candidate; at the same time, he is also filled with sexual desire. Behind the courtly etiquette there slumbers a great deal more – and with what painterly sensitivity it has been formulated!

Diameter: 31 cm
Inv. No. 1065

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