This large picture of a three-master gliding through the waves with billowing sails was created by Hans Holbein the Younger and is one of his most unusual drawings. Most of the works by him in this medium are elegant portrait studies using different-coloured chalks, made in preparation for his famous portrait paintings, above all of members of the English court. The "ship" seems to have been a working drawing he produced for a painting and which was not treated with particular care during the subsequent work process. It was roughly cut at the top on the right and left and was also torn and creased several times. But soon after it had served its purpose, people went to some lengths to preserve the sheet. It was mounted on backing paper and various lost details were carefully replaced.
Holbein's ship is populated by a wildly celebrating crowd of mercenaries and sailors. On all sides, wine tankards are being raised and emptied. One of the drinkers is already vomiting; another has his arm around a bare-bosomed camp follower. Neither the captain nor the helmsman is anywhere to be seen. Such depictions of ships follow in the tradition of the "Ship of Fools". This was the title of an extremely successful book published at the end of the fifteenth century which castigated the many ways in which people behaved foolishly. The author used a ship full of fools on the voyage to the fool's paradise of Narragonia as an allegory. Elsewhere, ships of this kind transport happy-go-lucky souls to the Land of Cockaigne. Executed with firm ink contours and an effective three-dimensional wash applied with the brush in several colours, Holbein's drawing can be understood as alluding to the symbolism of a false lifestyle. As part of the celebrations that followed Henry VIII's marriage to Anne Boleyn in 1533, Holbein created a number of murals - none of which has survived - for the Hanseatic merchants' guildhall in London on the subject of wealth and poverty. This ship depiction probably formed part of those paintings and was perhaps juxtaposed with a counterpart showing a disciplined and honourable ship's crew.
Since 2001, the Städel Museum has systematically been researching the provenance of all objects that were acquired during the National Socialist period, or that changed owners or could have changed owners during those years. The basis for this research is the “Washington Declaration”, also known as the “Washington Conference Principles”, formulated at the 1998 “Conference on Holocaust-Era Assets” and the subsequent “Joint Declaration”.
The provenance information is based on the sources researched at the time they were published digitally. However, this information can change at any time when new sources are discovered. Provenance research is therefore a continuous process and one that is updated at regular intervals.
Ideally, the provenance information documents an object’s origins from the time it was created until the date when it found its way into the collection. It contains the following details, provided they are known:
The successive ownership records are separated from each other by a semicolon.
Gaps in the record of a provenance are indicated by the placeholder “…”. Unsupported information is listed in square brackets.
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