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The National Gallery Masterpiece Tour 2018

Published: 04 May 2018

ZoomFive hundred years after the dazzling genius of Hans Holbein, a painting by one of the greatest portraitists of all time can now be seen in Shetland.

The 1520s A Lady with a Squirrel and a Starling, by Hans Holbein the Younger, is being loaned by the National Gallery, as part of their Masterpiece Tour 2018.

Holbein is famous for creating astonishingly lifelike portraits in the court of Henry VIII and his ministers. The painting coming to Shetland depicts a sitter (possibly Anne Lovell) with creatures that symbolise her family estate and coat of arms.

Shetland Museum and Archives periodically brings loans so local audiences can enjoy culture from further afield, but this is by far the most prestigious of any cultural object to have been exhibited here. Mat Roberts, Chief Executive Officer of Shetland Amenity Trust said: “I’m delighted that locals and visitors alike will be able to enjoy and learn about the work of an art history giant, in so unexpected a place as Shetland. We’re indebted to the lenders and sponsors who have allowed Trust staff to facilitate such a landmark event for our islands”.

Dr Ian Tait, Curator, added: “This is a momentous exhibition for us. Islanders have never before had the chance to appreciate such a cultural treasure in their midst and we’re honored that the National Gallery chose us as their exhibition venue. I’m sure that Shetlanders will remember this prestigious loan for years to come.”

Exhibitions Officer John Hunter explained the painting’s significance: “It takes you to the 16th century, when portraiture can be seen as social media; information was communicated through the inventiveness and imagination of the artist. The portrait’s power comes from the quality of technique and its subtle moral message. Holbein gives the sitter immortality in the form of a likeness, and he tempers this perceived arrogance by incorporating fig leaves which symbolised original sin, reminding the sitter and viewer of their mortality. The sensitivity in this portrait goes a long way to giving this Lady life.”

Thanks to the generous support of our sponsors, Christie’s, we can offer an engaging events programme for all ages across the loan period. Families, children and adults can take part in artist led portraiture workshops. There will be a series of talks and lectures about Holbein and the times in which he lived, culminating in a key note talk on Holbein from the National Gallery’s Deputy Director, Dr Susan Foister at the end of May. Schools can participate in a fun educational programme, developed to introduce pupils to this masterpiece painting and portraiture. For would be Tudor Royals, we have a photo booth with period costumes for dressing up - have your picture taken in the fashions of the day.

Shetland Museum and Archives will have a range of items on sale that celebrate the glorious art of Tudor times. From toy squirrels to academic guides on Holbein, the products on offer provide a chance for all ages to take home a reminder of their visit.

The Masterpiece Tour is part of the National Gallery’s commitment to promote the understanding, knowledge and appreciation of Old Master paintings to as wide an audience as possible. This opportunity to bring hugely popular works to the public’s doorstep is being made possible by the generous support of Christie’s.

The painting will be exhibited from 4th May – 15th July 2018.

Find out more about the exhibition and related events.