Our occasional series about history’s most interesting people who have been overlooked by Hollywood. See also our articles about Renaissance women, Medieval women, 18th-century women, and pirate women who need movies made about them. We’ve also also nominated Rose Bertin and several of Henry VIII’s wives for specific screen treatment.
I have already included a few artists in previous installments of this series, but today I thought I’d focus entirely on some artists whose lives would make great movie fodder.
There is one major difficulty in making a biopic about Bosch and that’s that very little is known about his actual life apart from his paintings; but then again, that could present a lot of fun opportunities for a screenwriter to develop him as a semi-fictional character. Was he tormented by the demons he painted? Or did he just paint whatever he thought he could get away? Maybe he was a frustrated artist who couldn’t seem to get enough clientele and decided to start painting the weirdest shit he could imagine only to find that’s what sold. Maybe he was utterly normal in a Walter Mitty kind of way, but inside his head there lived a chaotic world set with fantastic nightmarish scenes. I could certainly see Bosch being a loving father and husband apart from his strange paintings; maybe he hides his paintings from everyone, and they’re only accidentally discovered and revealed to great acclaim … I mean, here’s basically a blank slate to work with, and he’s got a body of work that has limitless opportunities for bringing to life. Come on, Guillermo del Toro, make this happen!
Hans Holbein, the Younger
Holbein’s best known works are from the two periods he had in England, from 1526-1528 and 1532-1540, with the latter eight years producing some of his most famous portraits such as the monumental double portrait of French ambassadors Jean de Dinteville and Georges de Selve, above. This period also produced the portraits of the men and women who made up Henry VIII‘s court in the last decade of his life, with major players like Thomas More, Thomas Cromwell, and Bishop Gardiner all sitting for him. Holbein was also responsible for the famous portrait of Anne of Cleves that proved that artistic license can go a little too far, as well as the portraits of Jane Seymour, Katherine Howard, and one prospective bride, Christina of Denmark.
In the screenplay that I would write (but probably never will, so feel free to steal it), the lives of these famous sitters would intersect with Holbein’s life as he observed their world from behind the canvas. He would be party to the breakdown of Roman Catholicism in England (told through More and Gardiner); the spectacular rise and fall of Anne Boleyn (via Cromwell); Jane Seymour’s brief reign wherein she manages to provide Henry with his long-desired male heir, only to die days later; and the aborted marriage between Henry and Anne of Cleves where his own portrait of Anne was faulted for flattering the subject too much — only to have Henry more or less accept that, hey, that’s what he’s paid to do and then turn around and execute Cromwell for botching the match. Katherine Howard would have been married to Henry and then executed in the time it would take for Holbein to produce her portrait (only the portrait miniature exists, suggesting that if there was a full sized portrait of Katherine, it either was abandoned halfway or destroyed after she fell from grace). I think it would be a fascinating sociological take on the well-trod history of this period, told from the POV of someone who is paid to observe and record and not interfere.
Anna Maria Garthwaite
I love me some textile history (hardly a surprise, I’m sure) and Anna Maria Garthwaite tops the list of interesting early-modern designers whose work is more famous than people realize. Garthwaite was an Englishwoman who designed textiles for the Spitalfields silk industry in the mid-18th century. The daughter of a Reverend Ephraim and his wife, Rejoyce (I do love those good 17th-century Protestant names), Anna Maria appears to have settled with her widowed sister in Spitalfields in the 1720s.
Like Bosch and Holbein, there’s not a whole lot on the record for her biography, but what we do know is that she produced designs for the silk weavers for nearly 30 years, leaving behind an impressive body of work — most of it currently housed at the Victoria and Albert Museum. A Garthwaite design is not hard to spot … Many portraits of contemporary notables were sporting Garthwaite textiles fashioned into fabulous gowns and waistcoats. Extant yardage and even entire outfits made from documentable Garthwaite designs are in major collections across the world. And these designs are still being referenced and used as the basis for contemporary home furnishing textiles to this day.
The part of Anna Maria’s story that has the most potential for development of course begins when she arrives from York to set up shop near London. Here’s a business woman in a very male-dominated world, who has no familial connection to the silk industry … How does she wind up there? What drove her to establish herself as a designer? And despite the high likelihood of other female textile designers operating at that time, Garthwaite rose to the top with designs that captured the zeitgeist of her age: light, bright, bold, and elegant.
Do you have a favorite artist you’d like to see immortalized on film? Share it with us in the comments!