The Book Half Open: Humanist Friendship in Holbein’s Portrait of Hermann von Wedigh III

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A small, blind-tooled volume sits on a table covered in green baize: one clasp is open, the other is closed; and a slip of paper emerges from it reading Veritas odium parit (truth breeds hatred). This detail occurs in the foreground of a portrait by Hans Holbein of a young man identified as the Cologne patrician Hermann von Wedigh III (Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York). A study of the physical features of the book and of the history of the brief text — actually an ancient and then Erasmian adage — leads to a new interpretation of the painting in the context of humanist friendship. The book is seen to be a multivalent simile for the work of art authored by the artist as well as for the sitter himself, raising questions about the implications for these of a medium that can be opened and closed. The half-open condition of the book is understood to reflect the complementary pressures of openness and closedness, accessibility and intimacy, that characterized the Renaissance republic of letters.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationOpenness in Medieval Europe
EditorsManuele Gragnolati, Almut Suerbaum
Place of PublicationBerlin
PublisherICI Berlin Press
ISBN (Electronic)978-3-96558-034-3
ISBN (Print)978-3-96558-031-2
Publication statusPublished - 2022

Publication series

NameCultural Inquiry


  • adages; books in paintings; classical reception; Erasmus of Rotterdam; Hans Holbein the Younger; Northern Renaissance; Terence

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