Holbein and Dostoevsky at Kunstmuseum Basel
500 years ago, Hans Holbein the Younger created the Dead Christ in the Tomb, which is now one of the icons in the Öffentliche Kunstsammlung Basel. 300 years later, in 1821, the Russian writer Fyodor Mikhailovich Dostoevsky was born.
In his novel The Idiot, Holbein’s painting makes a memorable appearance, dating back to a visit by the writer to the Kunstmuseum Basel. To mark this double anniversary, the Kunstmuseum Basel is setting up a special presentation centred on the Dead Christ in the Tomb, supplemented by passages from Dostoevsky’s novel and scientific findings.
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A visit in 1867 connects Dostoevsky with the Kunstmuseum Basel and in particular with Holbein’s Dead Christ in the Tomb.
His second wife Anna Grigorievna Dostoevskaya reports in her memoirs:
“On our way to Geneva, we stopped for a day in Basel to see a painting in the museum there that my husband had heard about. This painting by Hans Holbein depicts Christ who has endured inhuman torment, already taken down from the cross and decaying. His bloated face is covered with bloody wounds and his appearance is terrible. The painting had a crushing impact on Fyodor Mikhailovich. He stood before it as if stunned. And I did not have the strength to look at it – it was too painful for me, particularly in my sickly [pregnant] condition – and I went into the other rooms. When I came back after fifteen or twenty minutes, I found him still riveted to the same spot in front of the painting. His agitated face had a kind of dread in it, something I had noticed more than once during the first moments of an epileptic seizure. Quietly I took my husband by the arm, led him into another room and sat him down on a bench, expecting the attack from one minute to the next. Luckily this did not happen. He calmed down little by little and left the museum, but insisted on returning once again to view this painting which had struck him so powerfully.”
An exhibition ”HOLBEIN AND DOSTOEVSKY” is opening on 10th of July, 2021 at Kunstmuseum Basel (Switzerland).
The exhibition is supplemented with various editions of The Idiot, historical photographs, X-rays of Holbein’s Christ and an infrared reflectograph showing the changes in the work. Wall texts explain the findings.