Danzig Man in London

Holbein was one of the finest portrait painters of the sixteenth century. He came from Augsburg, one of the richest German cities with strong artistic traditions. However, he worked mainly in Basel and London. His are the portraits of Henry VIII or Erasmus of Rotterdam, reproduced countless times as illustrations for texts describing these characters.

The artist traveled between Switzerland and England in search of new commissions. In London, he was working for a powerful association of Hanseatic merchants, based in Steelyard on the north bank of the Thames. Georg Gisze, a Gdansk merchant, was one of them and representing the interests of his family there. During his ten-year stay in London, he ordered a portrait with the famous Hans Holbein.

Hans Holbein młodszy, Portret Georga Gisze, 1532, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin

We are watching Georg inside a well-equipped office, for today’s standards a bit messy. There are various items on the shelves, the table is covered with an oriental carpet. However, each object adds something to the story of a young man that we learn to know this way. A plaque with information about Gisze – his age (34 years) with the date of the painting is placed above his head. He holds a letter from brother in hand, addressed in his name. In turn, on the left, a family motto by Gisze was calligraphed on the wall, in a free translation saying: No pleasure is without consequences. The element most often analyzed by the researchers is the carnation, standing on the table in front of the young man, not accidentally occupying the central place in the composition. It gives the whole scene the character of a betrothal portrait, possibly intended for the future wife of Gisze – Christine Krüger.

This portrait belongs to a group of representations of Hanseatic merchants, whom Holbein immortalized during his second stay in England. The artist worked for various clients – the most prestigious orders came from the court of Henry VIII, from the king and his closest surroundings, as well as humanists and writers gathered around him. The fact that the merchants also ordered their likenesses from the same artist as the monarch, emphasizes the emancipation of this social group, which thus emphasized its raising rank and the right to representation.

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