By Jessica Dawson
Special to The Washington Post
Thursday, October 3, 2002; Page C05
"By Jessica Dawson, reprinted with permission from the Washington Post"
Hans Holbein the Younger's fine depictions of scholars and duchesses got him steady work in the 16th century. But the painter is also remembered, by students of art at least, for a picture called "Jean de Dinteville and Georges de Selve," or, as it's popularly known, "The Ambassadors."
The flattering portrait has a pair of diplomats, one draped in luscious fur, posing near a globe and a lute. But there's a curious, disc-shaped smear lingering near the men's feet.
That gray blob is not, in fact, a smudge. Step far to the right of the picture and look at it again: The smear resolves into a skull, meant as a nod to death and the brevity of earthly delights. Holbein inserted the distorted image, called an anamorphosis, to lend some gravity to his picture. By the 17th century, the anamorphic technique had become a popular way to insert religious, political or pornographic messages into art.
Several hundred years later, New York painter John Jacobsmeyer has rehashed anamorphosis with a vengeance. Almost every painting and etching in the artist's exhibition at Fraser Gallery features some elongated image floating around in it. Look at the pictures head-on and you risk developing a headache. Peer at them from the side and skip the Tylenol.
Jacobsmeyer applies the old-school technique to contemporary themes. The guy in the painting "Saint Gregory" wears a collared shirt you could buy at the Gap. Images of Cindy Sherman and Jane Fonda, circa "Barbarella," make it into etchings elongated like the letterbox format of a movie. Jacobsmeyer trots out 12th-century abbess and mystic Hildegard von Bingen, director Terry Gilliam and poet James Dickey, too. Ultimately, though, it's not clear why this varied cast has been assembled. What's plain enough is Jacobsmeyer's fondness for his technique.
John Jacobsmeyer at Fraser Gallery, 7700 Wisconsin Ave., Bethesda, Tuesday-Saturday 11:30 a.m.-6 p.m., to Oct. 9, 2002.
© 2002 The Washington Post Company