Hans Holbein the Younger

Hans Holbein the Younger

Overview
Hans Holbein the Younger (c. 1497 – between 7 October and 29 November 1543) was a German
Germans
The Germans are a Germanic ethnic group native to Central Europe. The English term Germans has referred to the German-speaking population of the Holy Roman Empire since the Late Middle Ages....

 artist
Artist
An artist is a person engaged in one or more of any of a broad spectrum of activities related to creating art, practicing the arts and/or demonstrating an art. The common usage in both everyday speech and academic discourse is a practitioner in the visual arts only...

 and printmaker who worked in a Northern Renaissance
Northern Renaissance
The Northern Renaissance is the term used to describe the Renaissance in northern Europe, or more broadly in Europe outside Italy. Before 1450 Italian Renaissance humanism had little influence outside Italy. From the late 15th century the ideas spread around Europe...

 style. He is best known as one of the greatest portraitists of the 16th century. He also produced religious art, satire and Reformation
Protestant Reformation
The Protestant Reformation was a 16th-century split within Western Christianity initiated by Martin Luther, John Calvin and other early Protestants. The efforts of the self-described "reformers", who objected to the doctrines, rituals and ecclesiastical structure of the Roman Catholic Church, led...

 propaganda, and made a significant contribution to the history of book design. He is called "the Younger" to distinguish him from his father, Hans Holbein the Elder
Hans Holbein the Elder
Hans Holbein was a German painter.He was born in Augsburg, Bavaria and died in Isenheim, Alsace. He and his brother Sigismund Holbein painted religious works in the late Gothic style...

, an accomplished painter of the Late Gothic
Gothic art
Gothic art was a Medieval art movement that developed in France out of Romanesque art in the mid-12th century, led by the concurrent development of Gothic architecture. It spread to all of Western Europe, but took over art more completely north of the Alps, never quite effacing more classical...

 school.

Born in Augsburg
Augsburg
Augsburg is a city in the south-west of Bavaria, Germany. It is a university town and home of the Regierungsbezirk Schwaben and the Bezirk Schwaben. Augsburg is an urban district and home to the institutions of the Landkreis Augsburg. It is, as of 2008, the third-largest city in Bavaria with a...

, Holbein worked mainly in Basel
Basel
Basel or Basle In the national languages of Switzerland the city is also known as Bâle , Basilea and Basilea is Switzerland's third most populous city with about 166,000 inhabitants. Located where the Swiss, French and German borders meet, Basel also has suburbs in France and Germany...

 as a young artist.
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Encyclopedia
Hans Holbein the Younger (c. 1497 – between 7 October and 29 November 1543) was a German
Germans
The Germans are a Germanic ethnic group native to Central Europe. The English term Germans has referred to the German-speaking population of the Holy Roman Empire since the Late Middle Ages....

 artist
Artist
An artist is a person engaged in one or more of any of a broad spectrum of activities related to creating art, practicing the arts and/or demonstrating an art. The common usage in both everyday speech and academic discourse is a practitioner in the visual arts only...

 and printmaker who worked in a Northern Renaissance
Northern Renaissance
The Northern Renaissance is the term used to describe the Renaissance in northern Europe, or more broadly in Europe outside Italy. Before 1450 Italian Renaissance humanism had little influence outside Italy. From the late 15th century the ideas spread around Europe...

 style. He is best known as one of the greatest portraitists of the 16th century. He also produced religious art, satire and Reformation
Protestant Reformation
The Protestant Reformation was a 16th-century split within Western Christianity initiated by Martin Luther, John Calvin and other early Protestants. The efforts of the self-described "reformers", who objected to the doctrines, rituals and ecclesiastical structure of the Roman Catholic Church, led...

 propaganda, and made a significant contribution to the history of book design. He is called "the Younger" to distinguish him from his father, Hans Holbein the Elder
Hans Holbein the Elder
Hans Holbein was a German painter.He was born in Augsburg, Bavaria and died in Isenheim, Alsace. He and his brother Sigismund Holbein painted religious works in the late Gothic style...

, an accomplished painter of the Late Gothic
Gothic art
Gothic art was a Medieval art movement that developed in France out of Romanesque art in the mid-12th century, led by the concurrent development of Gothic architecture. It spread to all of Western Europe, but took over art more completely north of the Alps, never quite effacing more classical...

 school.

Born in Augsburg
Augsburg
Augsburg is a city in the south-west of Bavaria, Germany. It is a university town and home of the Regierungsbezirk Schwaben and the Bezirk Schwaben. Augsburg is an urban district and home to the institutions of the Landkreis Augsburg. It is, as of 2008, the third-largest city in Bavaria with a...

, Holbein worked mainly in Basel
Basel
Basel or Basle In the national languages of Switzerland the city is also known as Bâle , Basilea and Basilea is Switzerland's third most populous city with about 166,000 inhabitants. Located where the Swiss, French and German borders meet, Basel also has suburbs in France and Germany...

 as a young artist. At first he painted murals and religious works and designed for stained glass windows and printed books. He also painted the occasional portrait, making his international mark with portraits of the humanist
Renaissance humanism
Renaissance humanism was an activity of cultural and educational reform engaged by scholars, writers, and civic leaders who are today known as Renaissance humanists. It developed during the fourteenth and the beginning of the fifteenth centuries, and was a response to the challenge of Mediæval...

 Desiderius Erasmus
Desiderius Erasmus
Desiderius Erasmus Roterodamus , known as Erasmus of Rotterdam, was a Dutch Renaissance humanist, Catholic priest, and a theologian....

 of Rotterdam. When the Reformation
Protestant Reformation
The Protestant Reformation was a 16th-century split within Western Christianity initiated by Martin Luther, John Calvin and other early Protestants. The efforts of the self-described "reformers", who objected to the doctrines, rituals and ecclesiastical structure of the Roman Catholic Church, led...

 reached Basel, Holbein worked for reformist clients while continuing to serve traditional religious patrons. His Late Gothic style was enriched by artistic trends in Italy, France, and the Netherlands, as well as by Renaissance Humanism
Renaissance humanism
Renaissance humanism was an activity of cultural and educational reform engaged by scholars, writers, and civic leaders who are today known as Renaissance humanists. It developed during the fourteenth and the beginning of the fifteenth centuries, and was a response to the challenge of Mediæval...

. The result was a combined aesthetic
Aesthetics
Aesthetics is a branch of philosophy dealing with the nature of beauty, art, and taste, and with the creation and appreciation of beauty. It is more scientifically defined as the study of sensory or sensori-emotional values, sometimes called judgments of sentiment and taste...

 uniquely his own.

Holbein travelled to England in 1526 in search of work, with a recommendation from Erasmus. He was welcomed into the humanist circle of Thomas More
Thomas More
Sir Thomas More , also known by Catholics as Saint Thomas More, was an English lawyer, social philosopher, author, statesman and noted Renaissance humanist. He was an important councillor to Henry VIII of England and, for three years toward the end of his life, Lord Chancellor...

, where he quickly built a high reputation. After returning to Basel for four years, he resumed his career in England in 1532. This time he worked for the twin founts of patronage, Anne Boleyn
Anne Boleyn
Anne Boleyn ;c.1501/1507 – 19 May 1536) was Queen of England from 1533 to 1536 as the second wife of Henry VIII of England and Marquess of Pembroke in her own right. Henry's marriage to Anne, and her subsequent execution, made her a key figure in the political and religious upheaval that was the...

 and Thomas Cromwell. By 1535, he was King's Painter to King Henry VIII
Henry VIII of England
Henry VIII was King of England from 21 April 1509 until his death. He was Lord, and later King, of Ireland, as well as continuing the nominal claim by the English monarchs to the Kingdom of France...

. In this role, he produced not only portraits and festive decorations but designs for jewellery, plate, and other precious objects. His portraits of the royal family and nobles are a vivid record of a brilliant court in the momentous years when Henry was asserting his supremacy
Supreme Head
Supreme Head of the Church of England was a title held by King Henry VIII of England signifying his leadership of the Church of England.-History:...

 over the English church
Church of England
The Church of England is the officially established Christian church in England and the Mother Church of the worldwide Anglican Communion. The church considers itself within the tradition of Western Christianity and dates its formal establishment principally to the mission to England by St...

.

Holbein's art was prized from early in his career. The French poet and reformer Nicholas Bourbon dubbed him "the Apelles
Apelles
Apelles of Kos was a renowned painter of ancient Greece. Pliny the Elder, to whom we owe much of our knowledge of this artist rated him superior to preceding and subsequent artists...

 of our time," a typical contemporary accolade. Holbein has also been described as a great "one-off" of art history, since he founded no school. After his death, some of his work was lost, but much was collected, and by the 19th century, Holbein was recognised among the great portrait masters. Recent exhibitions have also highlighted his versatility. He turned his fluid line to designs ranging from intricate jewellery to monumental fresco
Fresco
Fresco is any of several related mural painting types, executed on plaster on walls or ceilings. The word fresco comes from the Greek word affresca which derives from the Latin word for "fresh". Frescoes first developed in the ancient world and continued to be popular through the Renaissance...

es. Holbein's art has sometimes been called realist, since he drew and painted with a rare precision. His portraits were renowned in their time for their likeness; and it is through Holbein's eyes that many famous figures of his day, such as Erasmus and More, are now "seen". Holbein was never content, however, with outward appearance. He embedded layers of symbolism, allusion, and paradox in his art, to the lasting fascination of scholars. In the view of art historian Ellis Waterhouse
Ellis Waterhouse
Sir Ellis Kirkham Waterhouse was an English art historian specialized in Roman baroque and English painting...

, his portraiture "remains unsurpassed for sureness and economy of statement, penetration into character, and a combined richness and purity of style".

Early career


Holbein was born in the free imperial city
Free Imperial City
In the Holy Roman Empire, a free imperial city was a city formally ruled by the emperor only — as opposed to the majority of cities in the Empire, which were governed by one of the many princes of the Empire, such as dukes or prince-bishops...

 of Augsburg
Augsburg
Augsburg is a city in the south-west of Bavaria, Germany. It is a university town and home of the Regierungsbezirk Schwaben and the Bezirk Schwaben. Augsburg is an urban district and home to the institutions of the Landkreis Augsburg. It is, as of 2008, the third-largest city in Bavaria with a...

 during the winter of 1497–98. He was a son of the painter and draughtsman Hans Holbein the Elder
Hans Holbein the Elder
Hans Holbein was a German painter.He was born in Augsburg, Bavaria and died in Isenheim, Alsace. He and his brother Sigismund Holbein painted religious works in the late Gothic style...

, whose trade he and his older brother, Ambrosius
Ambrosius Holbein
Ambrosius Holbein was a German and Swiss artist in painting, drawing and printmaking.-Biography:He was the elder brother, by about three years, of Hans Holbein the Younger and like his brother was born in Augsburg , a center of art, culture and trade at that time...

, followed. Holbein the Elder ran a large and busy workshop in Augsburg, sometimes assisted by his brother Sigmund, also a painter.

By 1515, Hans and Ambrosius had moved as journeymen
Journeyman
A journeyman is someone who completed an apprenticeship and was fully educated in a trade or craft, but not yet a master. To become a master, a journeyman had to submit a master work piece to a guild for evaluation and be admitted to the guild as a master....

 painters to the city of Basel
Basel
Basel or Basle In the national languages of Switzerland the city is also known as Bâle , Basilea and Basilea is Switzerland's third most populous city with about 166,000 inhabitants. Located where the Swiss, French and German borders meet, Basel also has suburbs in France and Germany...

, a centre of learning and the printing trade. There they were apprenticed to Hans Herbster, Basel's leading painter. The brothers found work in Basel as designers of woodcut
Woodcut
Woodcut—occasionally known as xylography—is a relief printing artistic technique in printmaking in which an image is carved into the surface of a block of wood, with the printing parts remaining level with the surface while the non-printing parts are removed, typically with gouges...

s and metalcut
Metalcut
Metalcut is a relief printmaking technique, belonging to the category of old master prints. It was almost entirely restricted to the period from about 1450 to 1540, and mostly to the region around the Rhine in Northern Europe, the Low Countries, Germany, France and Switzerland; the technique...

s for printers. In 1515, the preacher and theologian Oswald Myconius
Oswald Myconius
Oswald Myconius was a follower of Huldrych Zwingli.He was born at Lucerne, Switzerland. His family name was Geisshüsler, and his father was a miller; hence he was also called Molitoris...

 invited them to add pen drawings to the margin of a copy of The Praise of Folly
The Praise of Folly
In Praise of Folly is an essay written in 1509 by Desiderius Erasmus of Rotterdam and first printed in 1511...

by the humanist
Humanism
Humanism is an approach in study, philosophy, world view or practice that focuses on human values and concerns. In philosophy and social science, humanism is a perspective which affirms some notion of human nature, and is contrasted with anti-humanism....

 scholar Desiderius Erasmus
Desiderius Erasmus
Desiderius Erasmus Roterodamus , known as Erasmus of Rotterdam, was a Dutch Renaissance humanist, Catholic priest, and a theologian....

 of Rotterdam
Rotterdam
Rotterdam is the second-largest city in the Netherlands and one of the largest ports in the world. Starting as a dam on the Rotte river, Rotterdam has grown into a major international commercial centre...

. The sketches provide early evidence of Holbein's wit and humanistic leaning. His other early works, including the double portrait of Basel's mayor Jakob Meyer zum Hasen and his wife Dorothea, follow his father's style.

In 1517, father and son began a project in Lucerne
Lucerne
Lucerne is a city in north-central Switzerland, in the German-speaking portion of that country. Lucerne is the capital of the Canton of Lucerne and the capital of the district of the same name. With a population of about 76,200 people, Lucerne is the most populous city in Central Switzerland, and...

 (Luzern), painting internal and external murals for the merchant Jakob von Hertenstein. While in Lucerne Holbein also designed cartoons for stained glass
Stained glass
The term stained glass can refer to coloured glass as a material or to works produced from it. Throughout its thousand-year history, the term has been applied almost exclusively to the windows of churches and other significant buildings...

. The city's records show that on 10 December 1517, he was fined five livres for fighting in the street with a goldsmith called Caspar, who was fined the same amount. That winter, Holbein probably visited northern Italy, though no record of the trip survives. Many scholars believe he studied the work of Italian masters of fresco
Fresco
Fresco is any of several related mural painting types, executed on plaster on walls or ceilings. The word fresco comes from the Greek word affresca which derives from the Latin word for "fresh". Frescoes first developed in the ancient world and continued to be popular through the Renaissance...

, such as Andrea Mantegna
Andrea Mantegna
Andrea Mantegna was an Italian painter, a student of Roman archeology, and son in law of Jacopo Bellini. Like other artists of the time, Mantegna experimented with perspective, e.g., by lowering the horizon in order to create a sense of greater monumentality...

, before returning to Lucerne. He filled two series of panels at Hertenstein's house with copies of works by Mantegna, including The Triumphs of Caesar
Triumphs of Caesar
The Triumphs of Caesar are a series of nine large paintings created by the Italian Renaissance artist Andrea Mantegna between 1486 and 1505 for the Ducal Palace, Mantua. They depict a triumphal military parade celebrating the victory of Julius Caesar in the Gallic Wars...

.

In 1519, Holbein moved back to Basel. His brother fades from the record at about this time, and it is usually presumed that he died. Holbein re-established himself rapidly in the city, running a busy workshop. He joined the painters' guild and took out Basel citizenship. He married Elsbeth Schmid, a widow a few years older than he was who had an infant son, Franz, and was running her late husband's tanning
Tanning
Tanning is the making of leather from the skins of animals which does not easily decompose. Traditionally, tanning used tannin, an acidic chemical compound from which the tanning process draws its name . Coloring may occur during tanning...

 business. She bore Holbein a son of his own, Philipp, in their first year of marriage.

Holbein was prolific during this period in Basel, which coincided with the arrival of Lutheranism in the city. He undertook a number of major projects, such as external murals for The House of the Dance and internal murals for the Council Chamber of the Town Hall. The former are known from preparatory drawings. The Council Chamber murals survive in a few poorly preserved fragments. Holbein also produced a series of religious paintings and designed cartoons for stained glass
Stained glass
The term stained glass can refer to coloured glass as a material or to works produced from it. Throughout its thousand-year history, the term has been applied almost exclusively to the windows of churches and other significant buildings...

 windows. In a period of revolution in book design, he illustrated for the publisher Johann Froben
Johann Froben
Johann Froben, in Latin: Johannes Frobenius , was a famous printer and publisher in Basel...

. His woodcut
Woodcut
Woodcut—occasionally known as xylography—is a relief printing artistic technique in printmaking in which an image is carved into the surface of a block of wood, with the printing parts remaining level with the surface while the non-printing parts are removed, typically with gouges...

 designs included those for the Dance of Death, the Icones (illustrations of the Old Testament
Old Testament
The Old Testament, of which Christians hold different views, is a Christian term for the religious writings of ancient Israel held sacred and inspired by Christians which overlaps with the 24-book canon of the Masoretic Text of Judaism...

), and the title page of Martin Luther
Martin Luther
Martin Luther was a German priest, professor of theology and iconic figure of the Protestant Reformation. He strongly disputed the claim that freedom from God's punishment for sin could be purchased with money. He confronted indulgence salesman Johann Tetzel with his Ninety-Five Theses in 1517...

's bible
Luther Bible
The Luther Bible is a German Bible translation by Martin Luther, first printed with both testaments in 1534. This translation became a force in shaping the Modern High German language. The project absorbed Luther's later years. The new translation was very widely disseminated thanks to the printing...

. Through the woodcut medium, Holbein refined his grasp of expressive and spatial effects.

Holbein also painted the occasional portrait in Basel, among them the double portrait of Jakob and Dorothea Meyer, and, in 1519, that of the young academic Boniface Amerbach. According to art historian Paul Ganz, the portrait of Amerbach marks an advance in his style, notably in the use of unbroken colours. For Meyer, he painted an altarpiece of the Madonna which included portraits of the donor
Donor portrait
A donor portrait or votive portrait is a portrait in a larger painting or other work showing the person who commissioned and paid for the image, or a member of his, or her, family...

, his wife, and his daughter. In 1523, Holbein painted his first portraits of the great Renaissance scholar Erasmus, who required likenesses to send to his friends and admirers throughout Europe. These paintings made Holbein an international artist. Holbein visited France in 1524, probably to seek work at the court of Francis I
Francis I of France
Francis I was King of France from 1515 until his death. During his reign, huge cultural changes took place in France and he has been called France's original Renaissance monarch...

. When Holbein decided to seek employment in England in 1526, Erasmus recommended him to his friend the statesman and scholar Thomas More
Thomas More
Sir Thomas More , also known by Catholics as Saint Thomas More, was an English lawyer, social philosopher, author, statesman and noted Renaissance humanist. He was an important councillor to Henry VIII of England and, for three years toward the end of his life, Lord Chancellor...

. "The arts are freezing in this part of the world," he wrote, "and he is on the way to England to pick up some angels".


England, 1526–1528


Holbein broke his journey at Antwerp, where he bought some oak panels and may have met the painter Quentin Matsys
Quentin Matsys
Quentin Matsys was a painter in the Flemish tradition and a founder of the Antwerp school. He was born at Leuven, where legend states he was trained as an ironsmith before becoming a painter...

. Sir Thomas More welcomed him to England and found him a series of commissions. "Your painter, my dearest Erasmus," he wrote, "is a wonderful artist". Holbein painted a famous portrait of More and another of More with his family. The group portrait, original in conception, is known only from a preparatory sketch and copies by other hands. According to art historian Andreas Beyer, it "offered a prelude of a genre that would only truly gain acceptance in Dutch painting of the seventeenth century". Seven fine related studies of More family members also survive.

During this first stay in England, Holbein worked largely for a humanist circle with ties to Erasmus. Among his commissions was the portrait of William Warham, Archbishop of Canterbury
William Warham
William Warham , Archbishop of Canterbury, belonged to a Hampshire family, and was educated at Winchester and New College, Oxford, afterwards practising and teaching law both in London and Oxford....

, who owned a Holbein portrait of Erasmus. Holbein also painted the Bavaria
Bavaria
Bavaria, formally the Free State of Bavaria is a state of Germany, located in the southeast of Germany. With an area of , it is the largest state by area, forming almost 20% of the total land area of Germany...

n astronomer and mathematician Nicholas Kratzer
Nicholas Kratzer
Nicholas Kratzer was a German mathematician, astronomer and horologist. Much of Kratzer's professional life was spent in England where he was appointed astronomer to King Henry VIII....

, a tutor of the More family whose notes appear on Holbein's sketch for their group portrait. Although Holbein did not work for the king during this visit, he painted the portraits of courtiers such as Sir Henry Guildford and his wife Lady Mary, and of Anne Lovell, recently identified as the subject of Lady with a Squirrel and a Starling. In May 1527, "Master Hans" also painted a panorama of the siege of Thérouanne
Thérouanne
Thérouanne is a commune in the Pas-de-Calais department in the Nord-Pas-de-Calais region of France.-Geography:Thérouanne is located 10 miles southwest of Saint-Omer, on the D157 and D341 road junction.-Population:-History:...

 for the visit of French Ambassadors. With Kratzer, he devised a ceiling covered in planetary signs, under which the visitors dined. The chronicler Edward Hall
Edward Hall
Edward Hall , English chronicler and lawyer, was born about the end of the 15th century, being a son of John Hall of Northall, Shropshire....

 described the spectacle as showing "the whole Earth, environed with the sea, like a very map or cart".

Basel, 1528–1532


On 29 August 1528, Holbein bought a house in Basel, in St Johanns-Vorstadt. He presumably returned home to preserve his citizenship, since he had been granted only a two-year leave of absence. Enriched by his success in England, Holbein bought a second house in the city in 1531.

During this period in Basel, he painted The Artist's Family, showing Elsbeth, with the couple's two eldest children, Philipp and Katherina, evoking images of the Virgin and Child with St John the Baptist
John the Baptist
John the Baptist was an itinerant preacher and a major religious figure mentioned in the Canonical gospels. He is described in the Gospel of Luke as a relative of Jesus, who led a movement of baptism at the Jordan River...

. Art historian John Rowlands sees this work as "one of the most moving portraits in art, from an artist, too, who always characterized his sitters with a guarded restraint".

Basel had become a turbulent city in Holbein's absence. Reformers, swayed by the ideas of Zwingli
Huldrych Zwingli
Ulrich Zwingli was a leader of the Reformation in Switzerland. Born during a time of emerging Swiss patriotism and increasing criticism of the Swiss mercenary system, he attended the University of Vienna and the University of Basel, a scholarly centre of humanism...

, carried out acts of iconoclasm and banned imagery in churches. In April 1529, the free-thinking Erasmus felt obliged to leave his former haven for Freiburg im Breisgau. The iconoclasts probably destroyed some of Holbein's religious artwork, but details are unknown. Evidence for Holbein's religious views is fragmentary and inconclusive. "The religious side of his paintings had always been ambiguous," suggests art historian John North, "and so it remained". According to a register compiled to ensure that all major citizens subscribed to the new doctrines: "Master Hans Holbein, the painter, says that we must be better informed about the [holy] table before approaching it". In 1530, the authorities called Holbein to account for failing to attend the reformed communion. Shortly afterwards, however, he was listed among those "who have no serious objections and wish to go along with other Christians".

Holbein evidently retained favour under the new order. The reformist council paid him a retaining fee of 50 florins and commissioned him to resume work on the Council Chamber frescoes. They now chose themes from the Old Testament
Old Testament
The Old Testament, of which Christians hold different views, is a Christian term for the religious writings of ancient Israel held sacred and inspired by Christians which overlaps with the 24-book canon of the Masoretic Text of Judaism...

 instead of the previous stories from classical history and allegory. Holbein's frescoes of Rehoboam
Rehoboam
Rehoboam was initially king of the United Monarchy of Israel but after the ten northern tribes of Israel rebelled in 932/931 BC to form the independent Kingdom of Israel he was king of the Kingdom of Judah, or southern kingdom. He was a son of Solomon and a grandson of David...

 and of the meeting between Saul
Saul
-People:Saul is a given/first name in English, the Anglicized form of the Hebrew name Shaul from the Hebrew Bible:* Saul , including people with this given namein the Bible:* Saul , a king of Edom...

 and Samuel were more simply designed than their predecessors. Holbein worked for traditional clients at the same time. His old patron Jakob Meyer paid him to add figures and details to the family altarpiece he had painted in 1526. Holbein's last commission in this period was the decoration of two clock faces on the city gate in 1531. The reduced levels of patronage
Patronage
Patronage is the support, encouragement, privilege, or financial aid that an organization or individual bestows to another. In the history of art, arts patronage refers to the support that kings or popes have provided to musicians, painters, and sculptors...

 in Basel may have prompted his decision to return to England early in 1532.

England, 1532–1540


Holbein returned to an England where the political and religious environment was changing radically. In 1532, Henry VIII was preparing to repudiate Catherine of Aragon
Catherine of Aragon
Catherine of Aragon , also known as Katherine or Katharine, was Queen consort of England as the first wife of King Henry VIII of England and Princess of Wales as the wife to Arthur, Prince of Wales...

 and marry Anne Boleyn
Anne Boleyn
Anne Boleyn ;c.1501/1507 – 19 May 1536) was Queen of England from 1533 to 1536 as the second wife of Henry VIII of England and Marquess of Pembroke in her own right. Henry's marriage to Anne, and her subsequent execution, made her a key figure in the political and religious upheaval that was the...

, in defiance of the pope. Among those who opposed Henry's actions was Holbein's former host and patron Sir Thomas More, who resigned as Lord Chancellor
Lord Chancellor
The Lord High Chancellor of Great Britain, or Lord Chancellor, is a senior and important functionary in the government of the United Kingdom. He is the second highest ranking of the Great Officers of State, ranking only after the Lord High Steward. The Lord Chancellor is appointed by the Sovereign...

 in May 1532. Holbein seems to have distanced himself from More's humanist milieu on this visit, and, according to Erasmus, "he deceived those to whom he was recommended". The artist found favour instead within the radical new power circles of the Boleyn family and Thomas Cromwell. Cromwell became the king's secretary in 1534, controlling all aspects of government, including artistic propaganda. More was executed in 1535, along with John Fisher
John Fisher
Saint John Fisher was an English Roman Catholic scholastic, bishop, cardinal and martyr. He shares his feast day with Saint Thomas More on 22 June in the Roman Catholic calendar of saints and 6 July on the Church of England calendar of saints...

, whose portrait Holbein had also drawn.

Holbein's commissions in the early stages of his second English period included portraits of Lutheran merchants of the Hanseatic League
Hanseatic League
The Hanseatic League was an economic alliance of trading cities and their merchant guilds that dominated trade along the coast of Northern Europe...

. The merchants lived and plied their trade at the Steelyard
Steelyard
The Steelyard, from the German Stalhof, was in the Middle Ages the main trading base of the Hanseatic League in London.-Location:It lay on the north bank of the Thames by the outflow of the Walbrook, in the Dowgate ward of the City of London. The site is now covered by Cannon Street station and...

, a complex of warehouses, offices, and dwellings on the north bank of the Thames. Holbein rented a house in Maiden Lane nearby. He portrayed his clients in a range of styles. His portrait of Georg Gisze
Georg Giese
Georg Giese Georg Giese (Gisze according to the title of the Holbein painting) Georg Giese (Gisze according to the title of the Holbein painting) (2 April 1497 in Danzig (now Gdańsk) - died on 3 February 1562 in Danzig, was a Hanse merchant....

 of Danzig shows the merchant surrounded with exquisitely painted symbols of his trade. His portrait of Derich Berck of Cologne
Cologne
Cologne is Germany's fourth-largest city , and is the largest city both in the Germany Federal State of North Rhine-Westphalia and within the Rhine-Ruhr Metropolitan Area, one of the major European metropolitan areas with more than ten million inhabitants.Cologne is located on both sides of the...

, on the other hand, is classically simple, possibly influenced by Titian
Titian
Tiziano Vecelli or Tiziano Vecellio Tiziano Vecelli or Tiziano Vecellio Tiziano Vecelli or Tiziano Vecellio (c. 1488/1490 – 27 August 1576 better known as Titian was an Italian painter, the most important member of the 16th-century Venetian school. He was born in Pieve di Cadore, near...

. For the guildhall of the Steelyard Holbein painted two monumental allegories, "The Triumph of Wealth" and "The Triumph of Poverty", both now lost. The merchants commissioned from Holbein a street tableau of Mount Parnassus
Mount Parnassus
Mount Parnassus, also Parnassos , is a mountain of limestone in central Greece that towers above Delphi, north of the Gulf of Corinth, and offers scenic views of the surrounding olive groves and countryside. According to Greek mythology, this mountain was sacred to Apollo and the Corycian nymphs,...

 for Anne Boleyn's coronation eve procession of 31 May 1533.

Holbein also portrayed various courtiers, landowners, and visitors during this time. His most famous, and perhaps greatest, painting of the period was The Ambassadors
The Ambassadors (Holbein)
The Ambassadors is a painting by Hans Holbein the Younger in the National Gallery, London. As well as being a double portrait, the painting contains a still life of several meticulously rendered objects, the meaning of which is the cause of much debate...

. This life-sized panel portrays Jean de Dinteville
Jean de Dinteville
Jean de Dinteville was a French diplomat. He is the left-hand figure in Holbein's 1533 painting The Ambassadors, painted whilst he was French ambassador to London, and which he presumably commissioned. Dinteville's motto was Memento mori, meaning "Remember thou shalt die."-See also:*François de...

, an ambassador of Francis I of France
Francis I of France
Francis I was King of France from 1515 until his death. During his reign, huge cultural changes took place in France and he has been called France's original Renaissance monarch...

 in 1533, and Georges de Selve
Georges de Selve
Georges de Selve was a French scholar, diplomat and ecclesiastic.-Biography:He was the son of Jean de Selve, a jurist and Parlement president, and brother of Odet de Selve. Three other brothers served as diplomats...

, Bishop of Lavaur
Lavaur, Tarn
Lavaur is a commune in the Tarn department in southern France.It lies 37 km southeast of Montauban by rail.-History:Lavaur was taken in 1211 by Simon de Montfort during the wars of the Albigenses, a monument marking the site where Dame Giraude de Laurac was killed, being thrown down a well...

, who visited London the same year. The work incorporates symbols and paradoxes, including an anamorphic
Anamorphosis
Anamorphosis or anamorphism may refer to any of the following:*Anamorphosis, in art, the representation of an object as seen, for instance, altered by reflection in a mirror...

 (distorted) skull. According to scholars, these encode enigmatic references to learning, religion, mortality, and illusion in the tradition of the Northern Renaissance
Northern Renaissance
The Northern Renaissance is the term used to describe the Renaissance in northern Europe, or more broadly in Europe outside Italy. Before 1450 Italian Renaissance humanism had little influence outside Italy. From the late 15th century the ideas spread around Europe...

. Art historians Oskar Bätschmann and Pascal Griener suggest that in The Ambassadors "Sciences and arts, objects of luxury and glory, are measured against the grandeur of Death".


No certain portraits of Anne Boleyn by Holbein survive, perhaps because her memory was purged following her execution for treason, incest, and adultery in 1536. That Holbein worked directly for Anne and her circle is, however, clear. He designed a cup engraved with her device of a falcon standing on roses, as well as jewellery and books connected to her. He also sketched several women attached to her entourage, including Jane Parker, Anne's sister-in-law. At the same time, Holbein worked for Thomas Cromwell as he masterminded Henry VIII's reformation
English Reformation
The English Reformation was the series of events in 16th-century England by which the Church of England broke away from the authority of the Pope and the Roman Catholic Church....

. Cromwell commissioned Holbein to produce reformist and royalist images, including anti-clerical woodcuts and the title page to Myles Coverdale
Myles Coverdale
Myles Coverdale was a 16th-century Bible translator who produced the first complete printed translation of the Bible into English.-Life:...

's English translation of the bible. Henry VIII had embarked on a grandiose programme of artistic patronage. His efforts to glorify his new status as Supreme Head of the Church culminated in the building of Nonsuch Palace
Nonsuch Palace
Nonsuch Palace was a Tudor royal palace, built by Henry VIII in Surrey, England; it stood from 1538 to 1682–3. Its ruins are in Nonsuch Park.- Background :Nonsuch Palace in Surrey was perhaps the grandest of Henry VIII's building projects...

, started in 1538.

By 1536, Holbein was employed as the King's Painter on an annual salary of 30 pounds, though he was never the highest-paid artist on the royal payroll. The royal "pictor maker", Lucas Horenbout
Lucas Horenbout
Lucas Horenbout, often called Hornebolte in England, was a Flemish artist who moved to England in the mid-1520s and worked there as "King's Painter" and court miniaturist to King Henry VIII from 1525 until his death...

, earned more, and other continental artists worked for the king. In 1537, Holbein painted what has become perhaps his most famous image: Henry VIII standing in a heroic pose with his feet planted apart. The left section of Holbein's cartoon for a life-sized wall painting at Whitehall Palace has survived, showing the king in this pose, with his father behind him. The mural itself, which also depicted Jane Seymour
Jane Seymour
Jane Seymour was Queen of England as the third wife of King Henry VIII. She succeeded Anne Boleyn as queen consort following the latter's execution for trumped up charges of high treason, incest and adultery in May 1536. She died of postnatal complications less than two weeks after the birth of...

 and Elizabeth of York
Elizabeth of York
Elizabeth of York was Queen consort of England as spouse of King Henry VII from 1486 until 1503, and mother of King Henry VIII of England....

, was destroyed by fire in 1698. It is known from engravings and from a 1667 copy by Remigius van Leemput. An earlier half-length portrait shows Henry in a similar pose, but all the full-length portraits of him based on the Whitehall pattern are copies. The figure of Jane Seymour in the mural is related to Holbein's sketch and painting of her.
Jane died in October 1537, shortly after bearing Henry's only son, the future Edward VI
Edward VI of England
Edward VI was the King of England and Ireland from 28 January 1547 until his death. He was crowned on 20 February at the age of nine. The son of Henry VIII and Jane Seymour, Edward was the third monarch of the Tudor dynasty and England's first monarch who was raised as a Protestant...

. About two years later, Holbein painted a portrait of the prince, clutching a sceptre-like gold rattle. Holbein's final portrait of Henry, dating from 1543 and perhaps completed by others, depicts the king with a group of barber surgeon
Barber surgeon
The barber surgeon was one of the most common medical practitioners of medieval Europe - generally charged with looking after soldiers during or after a battle...

s.,

Holbein's portrait style altered after he entered Henry's service. He focused more intensely on the sitters' faces and clothing, largely omitting props and three-dimensional settings. Holbein applied this clean, craftsmanlike technique both to miniature portraits, such as that of Jane Small
Jane Small
Jane Small was a daughter of Christopher Pemberton, a Northamptonshire gentleman. She is the subject of a well known portrait miniature by the artist Holbein.-Life:...

, and to grand portraits, such as that of Christina of Denmark
Christina of Denmark
Christina of Denmark was a Danish princess who became Duchess-consort of Milan, then Duchess-consort of Lorraine...

. Holbein travelled with Philip Hoby
Philip Hoby
Sir Philip Hoby was a 16th century English Ambassador to the Holy Roman Empire and Flanders....

 to Brussels
Brussels
Brussels , officially the Brussels Region or Brussels-Capital Region , is the capital of Belgium and the de facto capital of the European Union...

 and sketched Christina in 1538 for the king, who was appraising the young widow as a prospective bride. John Hutton, the English ambassador in Brussels, reported another artist's drawing of Christina as "sloberid" (slobbered) compared to Holbein's. In Wilson's view, Holbein's subsequent oil portrait is "the loveliest painting of a woman that he ever executed, which is to say that it is one of the finest female portraits ever painted". The same year, Holbein, again escorted by the diplomat Hoby, went to France to paint Louise of Guise
House of Guise
The House of Guise was a French ducal family, partly responsible for the French Wars of Religion.The Guises were Catholic, and Henry Guise wanted to end growing Calvinist influence...

 and Anne of Lorraine
Anna of Lorraine
Anna of Lorraine was a French princess of the House of Lorraine. She was Princess of Orange by her first marriage to René of Châlon, and Duchess of Aarschot by her second marriage to Philippe II of Croÿ....

 for Henry VIII. Neither portrait of these cousins has survived. Holbein found time to visit Basel, where he was fêted by the authorities and granted a pension. On the way back to England, he apprenticed his son Philipp to the Basel-born goldsmith Jacob David in Paris.

Holbein painted Anne of Cleves
Anne of Cleves
Anne of Cleves was a German noblewoman and the fourth wife of Henry VIII of England and as such she was Queen of England from 6 January 1540 to 9 July 1540. The marriage was never consummated, and she was not crowned queen consort...

, Henry's eventual choice of wife, at Düren
Düren
Düren is a town in North Rhine-Westphalia, capital of Düren district. It is located between Aachen and Cologne on the river Rur.-Roman era:Celts inhabited Düren's area before the Romans. They called their small settlement Durum . After the Celts other Germanic tribes settled this area...

 in summer 1539, posing her square-on and in elaborate finery. "Hans Holbein," reported the English envoy Nicholas Wotton
Nicholas Wotton
Nicholas Wotton was an English diplomat-Life:He was a son of Sir Robert Wotton of Boughton Malherbe, Kent, and a descendant of Nicholas Wotton, lord mayor of London in 1415 and 1430, and member of parliament for the city from 1406 to 1429.He early became vicar of Boughton Malherbe and of Sutton...

, "hath taken the effigies of my Lady Anne and the lady Amelia [Anne's sister] and hath expressed their images very lively". Henry was disillusioned with Anne in the flesh, however, and he divorced her after a brief, unconsummated marriage. The tradition that Holbein's portrait flattered Anne derives from the testimony of Sir Anthony Browne. He said that he was dismayed by her appearance at Rochester having seen her pictures and heard advertisements of her beauty, so much that his face fell. No one other than Henry ever described Anne as repugnant.

Last years and death, 1540–1543


Holbein had deftly survived the downfall of his first two great patrons, Thomas More and Anne Boleyn
Anne Boleyn
Anne Boleyn ;c.1501/1507 – 19 May 1536) was Queen of England from 1533 to 1536 as the second wife of Henry VIII of England and Marquess of Pembroke in her own right. Henry's marriage to Anne, and her subsequent execution, made her a key figure in the political and religious upheaval that was the...

, but Cromwell's sudden arrest and execution on trumped-up charges of heresy and treason in 1540 undoubtedly damaged his career. Though Holbein retained his position as King's Painter, Cromwell's death left a gap no other patron could fill.

Apart from routine official duties, Holbein now occupied himself with private commissions, turning again to portraits of Steelyard merchants. He also painted some of his finest miniatures, including those of Henry Brandon
Henry Brandon, 2nd Duke of Suffolk
Henry Brandon, 2nd Duke of Suffolk , styled Lord Henry Brandon before 1545, was an English nobleman, the son of the 1st Duke of Suffolk, by his fourth wife, the suo jure 12th Baroness Willoughby de Eresby....

 and Charles Brandon
Charles Brandon, 3rd Duke of Suffolk
Charles Brandon, 3rd Duke of Suffolk , known as Lord Charles Brandon until shortly before his death, was the son of the 1st Duke of Suffolk and the suo jure 12th Baroness Willoughby de Eresby....

, sons of Henry VIII's friend Charles Brandon, 1st Duke of Suffolk
Charles Brandon, 1st Duke of Suffolk
Charles Brandon, 1st Duke of Suffolk, 1st Viscount Lisle, KG was the son of Sir William Brandon and Elizabeth Bruyn. Through his third wife Mary Tudor he was brother-in-law to Henry VIII. His father was the standard-bearer of Henry Tudor, Earl of Richmond and was slain by Richard III in person at...

, and his fourth wife, Catherine Willoughby
Catherine Willoughby
Catherine Willoughby, Duchess of Suffolk, suo jure 12th Baroness Willoughby de Eresby , was an English noblewoman living at the royal courts of King Henry VIII, King Edward VI and later, Queen Elizabeth I...

. Holbein managed to secure commissions among those courtiers who now jockeyed for power, in particular from Anthony Denny
Anthony Denny
Sir Anthony Denny was a confidant of Henry VIII of England. Denny was the most prominent member of the Privy chamber in Henry's last years having, together with his brother-in-law John Gates, charge of the "dry stamp" of Henry's signature, and attended Henry on his deathbed. He also served as...

, one of the two chief gentlemen of the bedchamber. He became close enough to Denny to borrow money from him. He painted Denny's portrait in 1541 and two years later designed a clock-salt for him. Denny was part of a circle that gained influence in 1542 after the failure of Henry's marriage to Catherine Howard
Catherine Howard
Catherine Howard , also spelled Katherine, Katheryn or Kathryn, was the fifth wife of Henry VIII of England, and sometimes known by his reference to her as his "rose without a thorn"....

. The king's marriage in July 1543 to the reformist Catherine Parr
Catherine Parr
Catherine Parr ; 1512 – 5 September 1548) was Queen consort of England and Ireland and the last of the six wives of King Henry VIII of England. She married Henry VIII on 12 July 1543. She was the fourth commoner Henry had taken as his consort, and outlived him...

, whose brother Holbein had painted in 1541, established Denny's party in power.

Holbein may have visited his wife and children in late 1540, when his leave-of-absence from Basel expired. None of his work dates from this period, and the Basel authorities paid him six months salary in advance. The state of Holbein's marriage has intrigued scholars, who base their speculations on fragmentary evidence. Apart from one brief visit, Holbein had lived apart from Elsbeth since 1532. His will reveals that he had two infant children in England, of whom nothing is known except that they were in the care of a nurse. Holbein's unfaithfulness to Elsbeth may not have been new. Some scholars believe that Magdalena Offenburg, the model for the Darmstadt Madonna and for two portraits painted in Basel, was for a time Holbein's mistress. Others dismiss the idea. One of the portraits was of Lais of Corinth
Lais of Corinth
Lais of Corinth was a famous hetaera or courtesan of ancient Greece who was probably born in Corinth. Another hetaera with the same name was Lais of Hyccara. Since ancient authors in their -usually indirect- accounts often confuse them or do not indicate which they refer to, the two are...

, mistress of Apelles
Apelles
Apelles of Kos was a renowned painter of ancient Greece. Pliny the Elder, to whom we owe much of our knowledge of this artist rated him superior to preceding and subsequent artists...

, the famous artist of Greek antiquity after whom Holbein was named in humanist circles. Whatever the case, it is likely that Holbein always supported his wife and children. When Elsbeth died in 1549, she was well off and still owned many of Holbein's fine clothes; on the other hand, she had sold his portrait of her before his death.

Hans Holbein died between 7 October and 29 November 1543 at the age of 45. Karel van Mander stated in the early 17th century that he died of the plague. Wilson regards the story with caution, since Holbein's friends attended his bedside; and Peter Claussen suggests that he died of an infection. Describing himself as "servant to the king's majesty", Holbein had made his will on 7 October at his home in Aldgate
Aldgate
Aldgate was the eastern most gateway through London Wall leading from the City of London to Whitechapel and the east end of London. Aldgate gives its name to a ward of the City...

. The goldsmith John of Antwerp and a few German neighbours signed as witnesses. Holbein may have been in a hurry, because the will was not witnessed by a lawyer. On 29 November, John of Antwerp, the subject of several of Holbein's portraits, legally undertook the administration of the artist's last wishes. He presumably settled Holbein's debts, arranged for the care of his two children, and sold and dispersed his effects, including many designs and preliminary drawings that have survived. The site of Holbein's grave is unknown and may never have been marked.

Influences


The first influence on Holbein was his father. Hans Holbein the Elder
Hans Holbein the Elder
Hans Holbein was a German painter.He was born in Augsburg, Bavaria and died in Isenheim, Alsace. He and his brother Sigismund Holbein painted religious works in the late Gothic style...

, an accomplished religious artist and portraitist, passed on his techniques as a religious artist and his gifts as a portraitist to his son. The young Holbein learned his craft in his father's workshop in Augsburg
Augsburg
Augsburg is a city in the south-west of Bavaria, Germany. It is a university town and home of the Regierungsbezirk Schwaben and the Bezirk Schwaben. Augsburg is an urban district and home to the institutions of the Landkreis Augsburg. It is, as of 2008, the third-largest city in Bavaria with a...

, a city with a thriving book trade, where woodcut
Woodcut
Woodcut—occasionally known as xylography—is a relief printing artistic technique in printmaking in which an image is carved into the surface of a block of wood, with the printing parts remaining level with the surface while the non-printing parts are removed, typically with gouges...

 and engraving
Engraving
Engraving is the practice of incising a design on to a hard, usually flat surface, by cutting grooves into it. The result may be a decorated object in itself, as when silver, gold, steel, or glass are engraved, or may provide an intaglio printing plate, of copper or another metal, for printing...

 flourished. Augsburg also acted as one of the chief "ports of entry" into Germany for the ideas of the Italian Renaissance
Italian Renaissance
The Italian Renaissance began the opening phase of the Renaissance, a period of great cultural change and achievement in Europe that spanned the period from the end of the 13th century to about 1600, marking the transition between Medieval and Early Modern Europe...

. By the time Holbein began his apprenticeship under Hans Herbster in Basel, he was already steeped in the late Gothic style, with its unsparing realism and emphasis on line, which influenced him throughout his life. In Basel, he was favoured by humanist
Humanism
Humanism is an approach in study, philosophy, world view or practice that focuses on human values and concerns. In philosophy and social science, humanism is a perspective which affirms some notion of human nature, and is contrasted with anti-humanism....

 patrons, whose ideas helped form his vision as a mature artist.

During his Swiss years, when he may have visited Italy, Holbein added an Italian element to his stylistic vocabulary. Scholars note the influence of Leonardo da Vinci
Leonardo da Vinci
Leonardo di ser Piero da Vinci was an Italian Renaissance polymath: painter, sculptor, architect, musician, scientist, mathematician, engineer, inventor, anatomist, geologist, cartographer, botanist and writer whose genius, perhaps more than that of any other figure, epitomized the Renaissance...

's "sfumato
Sfumato
Sfumato is one of the four canonical painting modes of the Renaissance .The most prominent practitioner of sfumato was Leonardo da Vinci, and his famous painting of the Mona Lisa exhibits the technique. Leonardo da Vinci described sfumato as "without lines or borders, in the manner of smoke or...

" (smoky) technique on his work, for example in his Venus and Amor and Lais of Corinth. From the Italians, Holbein learned the art of single-point perspective
Perspective (graphical)
Perspective in the graphic arts, such as drawing, is an approximate representation, on a flat surface , of an image as it is seen by the eye...

 and the use of antique motifs and architectural forms. In this, he may have been influenced by Andrea Mantegna
Andrea Mantegna
Andrea Mantegna was an Italian painter, a student of Roman archeology, and son in law of Jacopo Bellini. Like other artists of the time, Mantegna experimented with perspective, e.g., by lowering the horizon in order to create a sense of greater monumentality...

. The decorative detail recedes in his late portraits, though the calculated precision remains. Despite assimilating Italian techniques and Reformation theology, Holbein's art in many ways extended the Gothic tradition. His portrait style, for example, remained distinct from the more sensuous technique of Titian
Titian
Tiziano Vecelli or Tiziano Vecellio Tiziano Vecelli or Tiziano Vecellio Tiziano Vecelli or Tiziano Vecellio (c. 1488/1490 – 27 August 1576 better known as Titian was an Italian painter, the most important member of the 16th-century Venetian school. He was born in Pieve di Cadore, near...

, and from the Mannerism
Mannerism
Mannerism is a period of European art that emerged from the later years of the Italian High Renaissance around 1520. It lasted until about 1580 in Italy, when a more Baroque style began to replace it, but Northern Mannerism continued into the early 17th century throughout much of Europe...

 of William Scrots
William Scrots
William Scrots was a painter of the Tudor court and an exponent of the Mannerist style of painting in the Netherlands. He is first heard of when appointed a court painter to Mary of Habsburg, Regent of the Netherlands, in 1537...

, Holbein's successor as King's Painter. Holbein's portraiture, particularly his drawings, had more in common with that of Jean Clouet
Jean Clouet
Jean Clouet was a miniaturist and painter who worked in France during the Renaissance. He was the father of François Clouet.-Biography:Clouet was allegedly born in Brussels....

, which he may have seen during his visit to France in 1524. He adopted Clouet's method of drawing with coloured chalks on a plain ground, as well as his care over preliminary portraits for their own sake. During his second stay in England, Holbein learned the technique of limning, as practised by Lucas Horenbout
Lucas Horenbout
Lucas Horenbout, often called Hornebolte in England, was a Flemish artist who moved to England in the mid-1520s and worked there as "King's Painter" and court miniaturist to King Henry VIII from 1525 until his death...

. In his last years, he raised the art of the portrait miniature
Portrait miniature
A portrait miniature is a miniature portrait painting, usually executed in gouache, watercolour, or enamel.Portrait miniatures began to flourish in 16th century Europe and the art was practiced during the 17th century and 18th century...

 to its first peak of brilliance.

Religious works


Holbein followed in the footsteps of Augsburg artists like his father and Hans Burgkmair
Hans Burgkmair
Hans Burgkmair the elder was a German painter and printmaker in woodcut.Burgkmair was born in Augsburg, the son of painter Thomas Burgkmair and his son, Hans the Younger, became one too. From 1488 he was a pupil of Martin Schongauer in Colmar, who died during his two years there, before Burgkmair...

, who largely made their living from religious commissions. Despite calls for reform, the church in the late 15th century was medieval
Middle Ages
The Middle Ages is a periodization of European history from the 5th century to the 15th century. The Middle Ages follows the fall of the Western Roman Empire in 476 and precedes the Early Modern Era. It is the middle period of a three-period division of Western history: Classic, Medieval and Modern...

 in tradition. It maintained an allegiance to Rome and a faith in pieties such as pilgrimages, veneration of relics, and prayer for dead souls. Holbein's early work reflects this culture. The growing reform movement, led by humanists such as Erasmus and Thomas More, began, however, to change religious attitudes. Basel, where Martin Luther
Martin Luther
Martin Luther was a German priest, professor of theology and iconic figure of the Protestant Reformation. He strongly disputed the claim that freedom from God's punishment for sin could be purchased with money. He confronted indulgence salesman Johann Tetzel with his Ninety-Five Theses in 1517...

's major works were published, became the main centre for the transmission of Reformation ideas.

The gradual shift from traditional to reformed religion can be charted in Holbein's work. His Body of the Dead Christ in the Tomb of 1522 expresses a humanist
Humanism
Humanism is an approach in study, philosophy, world view or practice that focuses on human values and concerns. In philosophy and social science, humanism is a perspective which affirms some notion of human nature, and is contrasted with anti-humanism....

 view of Christ in tune with the reformist climate in Basel at the time. The Dance of Death (1523–26) refashions the late-medieval allegory
Allegory
Allegory is a demonstrative form of representation explaining meaning other than the words that are spoken. Allegory communicates its message by means of symbolic figures, actions or symbolic representation...

 of the danse macabre
Danse Macabre
Dance of Death, also variously called Danse Macabre , Danza de la Muerte , Dansa de la Mort , Danza Macabra , Dança da Morte , Totentanz , Dodendans , is an artistic genre of late-medieval allegory on the universality of death: no matter one's...

as a reformist satire. Holbein's series of woodcut
Woodcut
Woodcut—occasionally known as xylography—is a relief printing artistic technique in printmaking in which an image is carved into the surface of a block of wood, with the printing parts remaining level with the surface while the non-printing parts are removed, typically with gouges...

s shows the figure of "Death" in many disguises, confronting individuals from all walks of life. None escape Death's skeleton clutches, even the pious.

In addition to the Dance of Death Holbein completed Icones or Series of the Old Gosspel (It contains two works: The images of the stories of the Old Gospel and Portraits or printing boards of the story of the Old Gospel). These works were arranged by Holbein with Melchior & Gaspar Trechsel near 1526, later printed an edited in latin by Jean & Francois Frellon with 92 woodcuts. These two works also share the first four figures with the Dance of Death.

It appears that the Trechsel brothers initially intended to hire Holbein for illustrating bibles. In fact, some of Holbein's Icones woodcuts appear in the recently discovered Biblia cum Glossis by Michel De Villeneuve (Michael Servetus
Michael Servetus
Michael Servetus was a Spanish theologian, physician, cartographer, and humanist. He was the first European to correctly describe the function of pulmonary circulation...

). Holbein woodcuts appear in several other works by Michel De Villeneuve: his spanish translation of The images of the stories of the Old Gospel , printed by Juan Stelsio in Antwerp in 1540 (92 woodcuts), and also of his spanish versification of the associated work Portraits or printing boards of the story of the Old Gospel, printed by Francois and Jean Frellon in 1542 (same 92 woodcuts plus 2 more), as it was demonstrated in the International Society for the History of Medicine
International Society for the History of Medicine
The International Society for the History of Medicine is a non profit international society devoted to the academic study of the History of Medicine, including the sponsorship of conferences in international congresses....

, by the expert researcher in Servetus, González Echeverría, who also proved the existence of the other work of Holbein & De Villeneuve
Michael Servetus
Michael Servetus was a Spanish theologian, physician, cartographer, and humanist. He was the first European to correctly describe the function of pulmonary circulation...

, Biblia cum Glossis or " Lost Bible".
Holbein painted many large religious works between 1520 and 1526, including the Oberried Altarpiece, the Solothurn Madonna, and the Passion. Only when Basel's reformers turned to iconoclasm in the later 1520s did his freedom and income as a religious artist suffer.

Holbein continued to produce religious art, but on a much smaller scale. He designed satirical religious woodcuts in England. His small painting for private devotion, Noli Me Tangere, has been taken as an expression of his personal religion. Depicting the moment when the risen Christ tells Mary Magdalene
Mary Magdalene
Mary Magdalene was one of Jesus' most celebrated disciples, and the most important woman disciple in the movement of Jesus. Jesus cleansed her of "seven demons", conventionally interpreted as referring to complex illnesses...

 not to touch him, Holbein adheres to the details of the bible story. The 17th-century diarist John Evelyn
John Evelyn
John Evelyn was an English writer, gardener and diarist.Evelyn's diaries or Memoirs are largely contemporaneous with those of the other noted diarist of the time, Samuel Pepys, and cast considerable light on the art, culture and politics of the time John Evelyn (31 October 1620 – 27 February...

 wrote that he "never saw so much reverence and kind of heavenly astonishment expressed in a picture".

Holbein has been described as "the supreme representative of German Reformation art". The Reformation was a varied movement, however, and his position was often ambiguous. Despite his ties with Erasmus and More, he signed up to the revolution begun by Martin Luther
Martin Luther
Martin Luther was a German priest, professor of theology and iconic figure of the Protestant Reformation. He strongly disputed the claim that freedom from God's punishment for sin could be purchased with money. He confronted indulgence salesman Johann Tetzel with his Ninety-Five Theses in 1517...

, which called for a return to the bible and the overthrow of the papacy. In his woodcuts Christ as the Light of the World and The Selling of Indulgences, Holbein illustrated attacks by Luther against Rome. At the same time, he continued to work for Erasmians and known traditionalists. After his return from England to a reformed Basel in 1528, he resumed work both on Jakob Mayer's Madonna and on the murals for the Council Chamber of the Town Hall. The Madonna was an icon of traditional piety, while the Old Testament
Old Testament
The Old Testament, of which Christians hold different views, is a Christian term for the religious writings of ancient Israel held sacred and inspired by Christians which overlaps with the 24-book canon of the Masoretic Text of Judaism...

 murals illustrated a reformist agenda.

Holbein returned to England in 1532 as Thomas Cromwell was about to transform religious institutions there. He was soon at work for Cromwell's propaganda machine, creating images in support of the royal supremacy
Supreme Head
Supreme Head of the Church of England was a title held by King Henry VIII of England signifying his leadership of the Church of England.-History:...

. During the period of the Dissolution of the Monasteries
Dissolution of the Monasteries
The Dissolution of the Monasteries, sometimes referred to as the Suppression of the Monasteries, was the set of administrative and legal processes between 1536 and 1541 by which Henry VIII disbanded monasteries, priories, convents and friaries in England, Wales and Ireland; appropriated their...

, he produced a series of small woodcuts in which biblical villains were dressed as monks. His reformist painting The Old and the New Law identified the Old Testament with the "Old Religion". Scholars have detected subtler religious references in his portraits. In The Ambassadors, for example, details such as the Lutheran hymn
Hymn
A hymn is a type of song, usually religious, specifically written for the purpose of praise, adoration or prayer, and typically addressed to a deity or deities, or to a prominent figure or personification...

 book and the crucifix behind the curtain allude to the context of the French mission. Holbein painted few religious images in the later part of his career. He focussed on secular designs for decorative objects, and on portraits stripped of inessentials.

Portraits



For Holbein, "everything began with a drawing". A gifted draughtsman, he was heir to a German tradition of line drawing and precise preparatory design. Holbein's chalk and ink portraits demonstrate his mastery of outline. He always made preparatory portraits of his sitters, though many drawings survive for which no painted version is known, suggesting that some were drawn for their own sake. Holbein produced relatively few portraits during his years in Basel. Among these were his 1516 studies of Jakob and Dorothea Meyer, sketched, like many of his father's portrait drawings, in silverpoint
Silverpoint
Silverpoint is a traditional drawing technique first used by Medieval scribes on manuscripts.-History:A silverpoint drawing is made by dragging a silver rod or wire across a surface, often prepared with gesso or primer. Silverpoint is one of several types of metalpoint used by scribes, craftsmen...

 and chalk.

Holbein painted most of his portraits during his two periods in England. In the first, between 1526 and 1528, he used the technique of Jean Clouet for his preliminary studies, combining black and coloured chalks on unprimed paper. In the second, from 1532 to his death, he drew on smaller sheets of pink-primed paper, adding pen and brushwork in ink to the chalk. Judging by the three-hour sitting given to him by Christina of Denmark, Holbein could produce such portrait studies quickly. Some scholars believe that he used a mechanical device to help him trace the contours of his subjects' faces. Holbein paid less attention to facial tones in his later drawings, making fewer and more emphatic strokes, but they are never formulaic. His grasp of spatial relationships ensures that each portrait, however sparely drawn, conveys the sitter's presence.

Holbein's painted portraits were closely founded on drawing. Holbein transferred each drawn portrait study to the panel with the aid of geometrical instruments. He then built up the painted surface in tempera
Tempera
Tempera, also known as egg tempera, is a permanent fast-drying painting medium consisting of colored pigment mixed with a water-soluble binder medium . Tempera also refers to the paintings done in this medium. Tempera paintings are very long lasting, and examples from the 1st centuries AD still exist...

 and oil, recording the tiniest detail, down to each stitch or fastening of costume. In the view of art historian Paul Ganz, "The deep glaze and the enamel-like lustre of the colouring were achieved by means of the metallic, highly polished crayon groundwork, which admitted of few corrections and, like the preliminary sketch, remained visible through the thin layer of colour".

The result is a brilliant portrait style in which the sitters appear, in Foister's words, as "recognisably individual and even contemporary-seeming" people, dressed in minutely rendered clothing that provides an unsurpassed source for the history of Tudor costume. Holbein's humanist clients valued individuality highly. According to Strong, his portrait subjects underwent "a new experience, one which was a profound visual expression of humanist ideals".

Commentators differ in their response to Holbein's precision and objectivity as a portraitist. What some see as an expression of spiritual depth in his sitters, others have called mournful, aloof, or even vacant. "Perhaps an underlying coolness suffuses their countenances," wrote Holbein's 19th-century biographer Alfred Woltmann
Alfred Woltmann
Alfred Woltmann was a German art historian. He was born at Charlottenburg, studied at Berlin and Munich, and was appointed professor of art history successively at the Polytechnicum in Karlsruhe and at the universities of Prague and Strasbourg...

, "but behind this outward placidness lies hidden a breadth and depth of inner life". Some critics see the iconic and pared-down style of Holbein's later portraits as a regression. Kenyon Cox, for example, believes that his methods grew more primitive, reducing painting "almost to the condition of medieval illumination". Erna Auerbach relates the "decorative formal flatness" of Holbein's late art to the style of illuminated documents, citing the group portrait of Henry VIII and the Barber Surgeons' Company. Other analysts detect no loss of powers in Holbein's last phase.

Until the later 1530s, Holbein often placed his sitters in a three-dimensional setting. At times, he included classical and biblical references and inscriptions, as well as drapery
Drapery
Drapery is a general word referring to cloths or textiles . It may refer to cloth used for decorative purposes – such as around windows – or to the trade of retailing cloth, originally mostly for clothing, formerly conducted by drapers.In art history, drapery refers to any cloth or...

, architecture, and symbolic props. Such portraits allowed Holbein to demonstrate his virtuosity and powers of allusion and metaphor, as well as to hint at the private world of his subjects. His 1532 portrait of Sir Brian Tuke
Brian Tuke
Sir Brian Tuke , was the secretary of Henry VIII and Cardinal Wolsey. He became treasurer of the household.-Life:He may have been son of Richard Tuke and Agnes his wife, daughter of John Bland of Nottinghamshire...

, for example, alludes to the sitter's poor health, comparing his sufferings to those of Job. The depiction of the Five wounds of Christ
Holy Wounds
The Five Holy Wounds or Five Sacred Wounds refer to what are believed to be the five piercing wounds that was suffered during the crucifixion of Jesus....

 and the inscription "INRI" on Tuke's crucifix are, according to scholars Bätschmann and Griener, "intended to protect its owner against ill-health". Holbein portrays the merchant Georg Gisze
Georg Giese
Georg Giese Georg Giese (Gisze according to the title of the Holbein painting) Georg Giese (Gisze according to the title of the Holbein painting) (2 April 1497 in Danzig (now Gdańsk) - died on 3 February 1562 in Danzig, was a Hanse merchant....

 among elaborate symbols of science and wealth that evoke the sitter's personal iconography
Iconography
Iconography is the branch of art history which studies the identification, description, and the interpretation of the content of images. The word iconography literally means "image writing", and comes from the Greek "image" and "to write". A secondary meaning is the painting of icons in the...

. However, some of Holbein's other portraits of Steelyard merchants, for example that of Derich Born, concentrate on the naturalness of the face. They prefigure the simpler style that Holbein favoured in the later part of his career.

Study of Holbein's later portraits has been complicated by the number of copies and derivative works attributed to him. Scholars now seek to distinguish the true Holbeins by the refinement and quality of the work. The hallmark of Holbein's art is a searching and perfectionist approach discernible in his alterations to his portraits. In the words of art historian John Rowlands:

This striving for perfection is very evident in his portrait drawings, where he searches with his brush for just the right line for the sitter's profile. The critical faculty in making this choice and his perception of its potency in communicating decisively the sitter's character is a true measure of Holbein's supreme greatness as a portrait painter. Nobody has ever surpassed the revealing profile and stance in his portraits: through their telling use, Holbein still conveys across the centuries the character and likeness of his sitters with an unrivalled mastery.



Miniatures


During his last decade, Holbein painted a number of miniatures
Portrait miniature
A portrait miniature is a miniature portrait painting, usually executed in gouache, watercolour, or enamel.Portrait miniatures began to flourish in 16th century Europe and the art was practiced during the 17th century and 18th century...

; small portraits worn as a kind of jewel. His miniature technique derived from the medieval art of manuscript illumination
Illuminated manuscript
An illuminated manuscript is a manuscript in which the text is supplemented by the addition of decoration, such as decorated initials, borders and miniature illustrations...

. His small panel portrait of Henry VIII shows an inter-penetration between his panel and miniature painting. Holbein's large pictures had always contained a miniature-like precision. He now adapted this skill to the smaller form, somehow retaining a monumental effect. The twelve or so certain miniatures by Holbein that survive reveal his mastery of "limning", as the technique was called. His miniature portrait of Jane Small
Jane Small
Jane Small was a daughter of Christopher Pemberton, a Northamptonshire gentleman. She is the subject of a well known portrait miniature by the artist Holbein.-Life:...

, with its rich blue background, crisp outlines, and absence of shading, is considered a masterpiece of the genre. According to art historian Graham Reynolds, Holbein "portrays a young woman whose plainness is scarcely relieved by her simple costume of black-and-white materials, and yet there can be no doubt that this is one of the great portraits of the world. With remarkable objectivity Holbein has not added anything of himself or subtracted from his sitter's image; he has seen her as she appeared in a solemn mood in the cold light of his painting-room".

Designs


Throughout his life, Holbein designed for both large-scale decorative works such as murals and smaller objects, including plate and jewellery. In many cases, his designs, or copies of them, are the sole evidence for such works. For example, his murals for the Hertenstein House in Lucerne and for the House of the Dance in Basel are known only through his designs. As his career progressed, he added Italian Renaissance motifs to his Gothic vocabulary.

Many of the intricate designs etched into suits of Greenwich armor, including King Henry's own personal tournament harnesses, were based on designs by Holbein. His style continued to influence the unique form of English armor for nearly half a century after his death.

Holbein's cartoon for part of the dynastic Tudor wall painting at Whitehall reveals how he prepared for a large mural. It was made of 25 pieces of paper, each figure cut out and pasted onto the background. Many of Holbein's designs for glass painting, metalwork, jewellery, and weapons also survive. All demonstrate the precision and fluidity of his draughtsmanship. In the view of art historian Susan Foister, "These qualities so animate his decorative designs, whether individual motifs, such as his favoured serpentine mermen and women, or the larger shapes of cups, frames, and fountains, that they scintillate on paper even before their transformation into precious metal and stone".

Holbein's way of designing objects was to sketch preliminary ideas and then draw successive versions with increasing precision. His final draft was a presentation version. He often used traditional patterns for ornamental details such as foliage and branches. When designing precious objects, Holbein worked closely with craftsmen such as goldsmiths. His design work, suggests art historian John North, "gave him an unparalleled feel for the textures of materials of all kinds, and it also gave him the habit of relating physical accessories to face and personality in his portraiture". Although little is known of Holbein's workshop, scholars assume that his drawings were partly intended as sources for his assistants.


Legacy and reputation



Holbein's fame owes something to that of his sitters. Several of his portraits have become cultural icon
Cultural icon
A cultural icon can be a symbol, logo, picture, name, face, person, building or other image that is readily recognized and generally represents an object or concept with great cultural significance to a wide cultural group...

s. He created the standard image of Henry VIII
Henry VIII of England
Henry VIII was King of England from 21 April 1509 until his death. He was Lord, and later King, of Ireland, as well as continuing the nominal claim by the English monarchs to the Kingdom of France...

. In painting Henry as an iconic hero, however, he also subtly conveyed the tyranny of his character. Holbein's portraits of other historical figures, such as Erasmus
Desiderius Erasmus
Desiderius Erasmus Roterodamus , known as Erasmus of Rotterdam, was a Dutch Renaissance humanist, Catholic priest, and a theologian....

, Thomas More
Thomas More
Sir Thomas More , also known by Catholics as Saint Thomas More, was an English lawyer, social philosopher, author, statesman and noted Renaissance humanist. He was an important councillor to Henry VIII of England and, for three years toward the end of his life, Lord Chancellor...

, and Thomas Cromwell, have fixed their images for posterity. The same is true for the array of English lords and ladies whose appearance is often known only through his art. For this reason, John North calls Holbein "the cameraman of Tudor history". In Germany, on the other hand, Holbein is regarded as an artist of the Reformation, and in Europe of humanism.

In Basel, Holbein's legacy was secured by his friend Amerbach and by Amerbach's son Basilius, who collected his work. The Amerbach-Kabinett later formed the core of the Holbein collection at the Kunstmuseum Basel
Kunstmuseum Basel
The Kunstmuseum Basel houses the largest and most significant public art collection in Switzerland, and is listed as a heritage site of national significance. Its lineage extends back to the Amerbach Cabinet purchased by the city of Basel in 1661, which made it the first municipally owned museum...

. Although Holbein's art was also valued in England, few 16th-century English documents mention him. Archbishop Matthew Parker
Matthew Parker
Matthew Parker was Archbishop of Canterbury from 1559 until his death in 1575. He was also an influential theologian and arguably the co-founder of Anglican theological thought....

 (1504–75) observed that his portraits were "dilineated and expressed to the resemblance of life". At the end of the 16th century, the miniature portraitist Nicholas Hilliard
Nicholas Hilliard
Nicholas Hilliard was an English goldsmith and limner best known for his portrait miniatures of members of the courts of Elizabeth I and James I of England. He mostly painted small oval miniatures, but also some larger cabinet miniatures, up to about ten inches tall, and at least two famous...

 spoke in his treatise Arte of Limning of his debt to Holbein: "Holbein's manner have I ever imitated, and hold it for the best". No account of Holbein's life was written until Karel van Mander's often inaccurate "Schilder-Boeck" (Painter-Book) of 1604.

Holbein's followers produced copies and versions of his work, but he does not seem to have founded a school. Biographer Derek Wilson calls him one of the great "one-offs" of art history. The only artist who appears to have adopted his techniques was John Bettes the Elder
John Bettes the Elder
John Bettes the Elder was an English artist whose few known paintings date from between about 1543 and 1550. His most famous work is his Portrait of a Man in a Black Cap...

, whose Man in a Black Cap (1545) is close in style to Holbein. Scholars differ about Holbein's influence on English art. In Foister's view: "Holbein had no real successors and few imitators in England. The disparity between his subtle, interrogatory portraits of men and women whose gazes follow us, and the stylised portraits of Elizabeth I and her courtiers can seem extreme, the more so as it is difficult to trace a proper stylistic succession to Holbein's work to bridge the middle of the century". Nevertheless, "modern" painting in England may be said to have begun with Holbein. That later artists were aware of his work is evident in their own, sometimes explicitly. Hans Eworth
Hans Eworth
Hans Eworth was a Flemish painter active in England in the mid-16th century. Along with other exiled Flemings, he made a career in Tudor London, painting allegorical images as well as portraits of the gentry and nobility. About 40 paintings are now attributed to Eworth, among them portraits of...

, for example, painted two full-length copies in the 1560s of Holbein's Henry VIII derived from the Whitehall pattern and included a Holbein in the background of his Mary Neville, Lady Dacre. The influence of Holbein's "monumentality and attention to texture" has been detected in Eworths' work. According to art historian Erna Auerbach: "Holbein's influence on the style of English portraiture was undoubtedly immense. Thanks to his genius, a portrait type was created which both served the requirements of the sitter and raised portraiture in England to a European level. It became the prototype of the English Court portrait of the Renaissance period".


The fashion for Old Masters in England after the 1620s created a demand for Holbein, led by the connoisseur Thomas Howard, Earl of Arundel
Thomas Howard, 21st Earl of Arundel
Thomas Howard, 21st Earl of Arundel KG, was a prominent English courtier during the reigns of King James I and King Charles I, but he made his name as a Grand Tourist and art collector rather than as a politician. When he died he possessed 700 paintings, along with large collections of sculpture,...

. The Flemish artists Anthony van Dyck
Anthony van Dyck
Sir Anthony van Dyck was a Flemish Baroque artist who became the leading court painter in England. He is most famous for his portraits of Charles I of England and his family and court, painted with a relaxed elegance that was to be the dominant influence on English portrait-painting for the next...

 and Peter Paul Rubens discovered Holbein through Arundel. Arundel commissioned engravings of his Holbeins from the Czech Wenceslaus Hollar, some of works now lost. From this time, Holbein's art was also prized in the Netherlands, where the picture dealer Michel Le Blon became a Holbein connoisseur. The first catalogue raisonné
Catalogue raisonné
The typical catalogue raisonné is a monograph giving a comprehensive catalogue of artworks by an artist.The essential elements of a catalogue raisonné are that it purports to be an exhaustive list of works for a defined subject matter describing the works in a way so that they may be reliably...

of Holbein's work was produced by the Frenchman Charles Patin and the Swiss Sebastian Faesch in 1656. They published it with Erasmus's Encomium moriæ (The Praise of Folly)
The Praise of Folly
In Praise of Folly is an essay written in 1509 by Desiderius Erasmus of Rotterdam and first printed in 1511...

 and an inaccurate biography that portrayed Holbein as dissolute.

In the 18th century, Holbein found favour in Europe with those who saw his precise art as an antidote to the Baroque
Baroque
The Baroque is a period and the style that used exaggerated motion and clear, easily interpreted detail to produce drama, tension, exuberance, and grandeur in sculpture, painting, literature, dance, and music...

. In England, the connoisseur and antiquarian Horace Walpole (1717–97) praised him as a master of the Gothic
Gothic art
Gothic art was a Medieval art movement that developed in France out of Romanesque art in the mid-12th century, led by the concurrent development of Gothic architecture. It spread to all of Western Europe, but took over art more completely north of the Alps, never quite effacing more classical...

. Walpole hung his neo-Gothic
Gothic Revival architecture
The Gothic Revival is an architectural movement that began in the 1740s in England...

 house at Strawberry Hill
Strawberry Hill House
Strawberry Hill is the Gothic Revival villa of Horace Walpole which he built in the second half of the 18th century in what is now an affluent area of the London Borough of Richmond upon Thames in Twickenham, London...

 with copies of Holbeins and kept a Holbein room. From around 1780, a re-evaluation of Holbein set in, and he was enshrined among the canonical masters. A new cult of the sacral art masterpiece arose, endorsed by the German Romantics. This view suffered a setback during the famous controversy known as the "Holbein-Streit" (Holbein dispute) in the 1870s. It emerged that the revered Meyer Madonna at Dresden was a copy, and that the little-known version at Darmstadt was the Holbein original. Since then, scholars have gradually removed the attribution to Holbein from many copies and derivative works. The current scholarly view of Holbein's art stresses his versatility, not only as a painter but as a draughtsman, printmaker, and designer. Art historian Erika Michael believes that "the breadth of his artistic legacy has been a significant factor in the sustained reception of his oeuvre".

Further reading

  • Hervey, Mary F.S. Holbein's "Ambassadors": The Picture and the Men. An Historical Study. London, George Bell & Sons, 1900. OCLC 8256471.

External links