Hans Holbein the Younger 1497/8 – 1543

An Allegory of the Old and New Testaments

oil on panel (49 × 60 cm) — c. 1532 - 1535 Museum Scottish National Gallery, Edinburgh

Hans Holbein the Younger biography

Tags: Allegory

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Hans Holbein the Younger summarizes the Bible on one panel. On the left the decay of the Old Testament, on the right the salvation as offered by the New Testament. Decay and salvation are divided by a tree with dead branches on the left. In the center a sitting man is shown the right way by the prophet Isaiah and John the Baptist.

This division coincides with the reformist Bible interpretation, where the period of the Old Testament is seen as a time of sin and penalty. The New Testament shows the way to mercy.

Man (HOMO) has neglected Moses' law (LEX), what lead to sin (PECCATUM, illustrated here by Adam and Eve's original sin) and eventually to death (MORS). Even Moses' brazen serpent could not cure man (MYSTERIUM IUSTIFICATIONIS).

On the right Jesus offers grace (GRATIA), justice (IUSTIFICATIO NOSTRA) and even victory over death (VICTORIA NOSTRA). John shows the way, which leads through the Lamb of God (AGNUS DEI).

This allegorical and very moralistic panel is still somewhat medieval and is therefore seen as an exception in Holbein's work. It is clearly inspired by a panel that Lucas Cranach made in 1529.

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