“What then did you go out to see? A man dressed in soft clothing?” Matthew 11:8
We go out of our way to be told the messages we want to hear, in the comfort of places we want to be seen in. Catering to this felt need sustains galleries, cinemas, car-showrooms, coffee-shops, all the contemporary contexts we exhibit ourselves within and in which we are exhibited to. The Ambassadors exhibits exhibitionists just so, in a meta-commentary on the place of the arts in society.
The endurance of Holbein's piece in popular fascination is a tribute to his mastery of technique in paint and in provocation, in drawing and in drawing a crowd. The Eastpak uniformed swarms each pause, kneeling dutifully to honour the artist's perspective, each bestowing a 15 seconds of fame on this marketeer's tour de force of trompe-l'œil.
Fire Exit signage is the momento mori of contemporary life, and art is our game of distraction. Here, in The National Gallery's Room C, the painting stands boldly proud of the wall, for the fame of its being famous, for the screening of the dark emergency doors behind and for the better oblique appreciation of death.