At Basel in 1523 Holbein met the Humanist Erasmus of Rotterdam, who that year had composed his Paraphrase on Mark. Erasmus wrote of himself: "He was rather fastidious, so that nothing he has written has ever satisfied him, and he was not even content with his own appearance; it is already much that, on the insistence of his friends, he allowed his picture to be painted." So Holbein became the painter of Erasmus, as Cranach was of Luther. From a letter written by Erasmus in 1524 it can be deduced that this was one of two portrait paintings "painted by an artist of great merit" and sent to England, one for the archbishop of Canterbury and this one, probably, for Thomas More, who thanked him for the gift. But the scholar was convinced that his best side emerged from his writings: "What small part of Erasmus would you carry with you, if you took home a painted or sculpted image of this little body You can see the best part of Erasmus, every time you wish, in his books, assuming that there be something in me worth looking at." The scholar accepted the value of portraits, but claimed they were unable to reveal the mind, the intelligence and the memory of the person portrayed. He also praised Durer as an "artist worthy of immortality," as a modern version of Apelles, the legendary artist of antiquity. But on the other hand he criticized the superstitious use of images: in the Praise of Folly he deplored the stupidity of those who were convinced that if they can but see a wooden or painted Polypheme Christopher, they shall not die that day" (it was because of this belief that large figures of St. Christopher were often painted on the outside walls of houses, so they would be visible from a distance), or that they would not die in battle after saluting a carving of St. Barbara. In the portrait the humanist is presented in profile, busy writing the incipit of his work. The pose in profile denotes a classical influence, as it is typical of the images on coins: Erasmus himself, moreover, had had a coin with his effigy struck in 1519 to give to his friends.
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