Cover image for Disharmony of the Spheres: The Europe of Holbein’s Ambassadors By Jennifer Nelson

Disharmony of the Spheres

The Europe of Holbein’s Ambassadors

Jennifer Nelson

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$99.95 | Hardcover Edition
ISBN: 978-0-271-08340-7

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ISBN: 978-0-271-08341-4
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216 pages
7" × 10"
19 color/24 b&w illustrations
2019

Disharmony of the Spheres

The Europe of Holbein’s Ambassadors

Jennifer Nelson

Disharmony of the Spheres exemplifies a genuinely new kind of early modern cultural studies. Each of Nelson’s readings displays the same ‘technical mastery’ of the protocols of the several disciplines across which the book works—art history, history of science and technology, institutional history, early modern philology, and diplomacy too—that she so admires in Holbein’s work.”

 

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  • Description
  • Reviews
  • Bio
  • Table of Contents
  • Subjects
                                                                                                                                                                  
Anxious about the threat of Ottoman invasion and a religious schism that threatened Christianity from within, sixteenth-century northern Europeans increasingly saw their world as disharmonious and full of mutual contradictions. Examining the work of four unusual but influential northern Europeans as they faced Europe’s changing identity, Jennifer Nelson reveals the ways in which these early modern thinkers and artists grappled with the problem of cultural, religious, and cosmological difference in relation to notions of universals and the divine.

Focusing on northern Europe during the first half of the sixteenth century, this book proposes a complementary account of a Renaissance and Reformation for which epistemology is not so much destabilized as pluralized. Addressing a wide range of media—including paintings, etchings and woodcuts, university curriculum regulations, clocks, sundials, anthologies of proverbs, and astrolabes—Nelson argues that inconsistency, discrepancy, and contingency were viewed as fundamental features of worldly existence. Taking as its starting point Hans Holbein’s famously complex double portrait The Ambassadors, and then examining Philipp Melanchthon’s measurement-minded theology of science, Georg Hartmann’s modular sundials, and Desiderius Erasmus’s eclectic Adages, Disharmony of the Spheres is a sophisticated and challenging reconsideration of sixteenth-century northern European culture and its discomforts.

Carefully researched and engagingly written, Disharmony of the Spheres will be of vital interest to historians of early modern European art, religion, science, and culture.

Disharmony of the Spheres exemplifies a genuinely new kind of early modern cultural studies. Each of Nelson’s readings displays the same ‘technical mastery’ of the protocols of the several disciplines across which the book works—art history, history of science and technology, institutional history, early modern philology, and diplomacy too—that she so admires in Holbein’s work.”
“A true delight. This is one of the most engaging monographs in art history (in fact truly interdisciplinary, but with a strong foundation in art history) I have had the pleasure to read in a long time.”
“This book takes as its unifying feature one of the most famous Northern Renaissance paintings in the National Gallery, London: Hans Holbein’s The Ambassadors (1533). Nelson divides her discussion into five chapters, giving broad intellectual context to the work.”
“By exploring the epistemic violence done to the European consciousness and the subsequent rupturing of a unified society, the book allows us to explore the ways in which parts of the same world are in fact incongruous, at odds with one another, yet, at the same time, deeply entangled. Nelson’s methods of doing so are particularly important, as she moves dexterously between art history, theology, history of science, and Christian humanism.”
“Nelson brings a refreshing interdisciplinarity to Holbein’s Ambassadors that allows us to see it through a theological preoccupation with difference and discrepancy. The happy result is a defamiliarizing of one of the most familiar paintings of Renaissance Europe.”

Jennifer Nelson is Assistant Professor of Art History at the University of Wisconsin–Madison.

List of Illustrations

Preface and Acknowledgments

1. Anamorphosis as Symbolic Form

2. Melanchthon’s Imperfect Mathematics

3. Hartmann’s Locative Science

4. Erasmus Enumerates Europe

5. The Self-Dissimilar Salvation of Holbein’s Ambassadors

Notes

Bibliography

Index