This has been something that has been on my mind on and off for many years..
When I was 14 my piano teacher was murdered by someone in our town. It was a blow that I never quite got over, and I didn’t know how to get around such thing happening.
It sent a shock wave through the lives of so many people. When my stepfather left us, my teacher looked out for us, he was raising money for charity when he passed, and after he died, his mother followed with a disease brought on by the ravages of grief.
He was beloved by the community, and by all of his students, and I was desolate.
It wasn’t that is was hard to believe that he was gone, it was more the fact that he had left a gaping hole and there was no way I could fill it- I didn’t play the piano anymore, and every key was ice in my heart.
He once told me that I could play with beautiful expression, and that I put myself into the things that I played, but with so much pain, it was all that came out when I sat at the piano stool.
It is something that has haunted the rest of my days, and I’d never known how to process such a tragedy..
Strangely, enlightenment came in the oddest place. My mother is tremendously enthusiastic about the Tudors, and the history behind them, and as an artist I was all too happy to sit with her and watch a programme on Hans Holbine, official portrait artist of Henry VIII.
His work was stunning to say the least, so very detailed and he seemed to capture the essence of a person, and trap them on paper or in paint, forever.
The programme we were watching was an analysis of one of Holbein’s most famous works, ”The ambassadors” in which Holbein performs an incredible feat of perspective and symbolism.
The picture is of two quite obviously wealthy men, powerful and educated- in viewing the objects that they are surrounded by, the instruments and globes, these would suggest that they are also highly and classically educated, musical, well read and of high class.
Perhaps to prove the above Holbein chose carefully the gentleman he wished to paint- on the left is Jean de Dinteville, the French Ambassador to England in 1533 and on the right is Georges de Selve the bishop of Lavaur pictured at the young age of 25.
The instruments for measuring time lie between them, as well as objects or astronomy and the study of the skies- all of the objects have been carefully chosen and placed with care, symbolic and representative of the passing of time, study of the heavens, religion and hymns, but like a smear over the beauty of youth and the wealth of the gentlemen lies a distorted skull at the bottom of the painting.
This has so many connotations in it- you can’t take wealth to the grave, They don’t put pockets on shrouds, wealth, youth and beauty count for naught, no study of the heavens will bring answers and your fate lies in the earth, but what I was most interested in was the idea of perspective.
This could be looked at in a literal sense as Holbein has, by some feat of artistry, stretched and warped the image of the skull leaving it almost unrecognisable.
It is only when you view from above and at a right angle to the painting that you truly see the mastery of his work.
There have been so many ideas as to the meaning behind this image, such as the pleas for Christian unity, memento mori… but for me it was all about what it was. Perspective.
Death is literal until looked at in a different way, such is the nature of religion, and I realised that it should be applied in all walks of life.
So long as I remembered him my teacher was still a part of my life, and I promptly removed my piano books from their place hidden away where I could never see them, and put them on my every day bookshelf.. Everything in life is about how you look at it, and you can turn your darkest days into happy ones if you try hard enough (It’s damn hard though!).
I found this little treasure at a charity shop where I live, and it’s PERFECT. It now decorates my living room to remind me..
Take heart, it’s the hardest thing in the world to find positives in life, but sometimes we have no other choice.