HOLBEIN, Hans The Younger

Hans Holbein the Younger was born in Augsburg in 1497/98. His subsequent career, however, linked him more closely with Basel in Switzerland and, finally, London. Born some twenty-five years after the great Albrecht Dürer,* Holbein lived at a time of religious turmoil as well as artistic change, both of which affected his career. He became court painter to England s Henry VIII,* and his portraits of the king and his court created images that have ensured Holbein s fame.
Holbein was a member of a family of painters that included his father, Hans Holbein the Elder, his older brother Ambrosius, and the painter and printmaker Hans Burgkmair,* who, according to an early tradition, may have been his uncle.
Holbein s training began in his father s workshop, where he quickly showed his prodigious talent. In 1515 the Holbein brothers went to Basel, where they en­tered the workshop of a minor artist, Hans Herbst. For Hans Holbein, the move to Basel was to have far-reaching consequences, for the city was not only a center of printing and thus an important source of commissions for painters, but also a place of intellectual freedom, a center of humanism where the thinkers of the time met and discussed the need for reform in the church.
Desiderius Erasmus,* the Dutch humanist, also arrived in Basel in 1514 to oversee the publication of his Greek New Testament and found a city that was much to his liking, a gathering place of intellectuals, where many spoke Latin, Greek, and even Hebrew. Sebastian Brant s famous book The Ship of Fools was printed in Basel, and it was the printers of Basel who also gave Holbein early experience of designing woodcuts for books by commissioning forty-one illus­trations for the popular tract The Dance of Death, which he completed between 1523 and 1526.
As Hans Holbein matured, he began to receive commissions for paintings, notably a double portrait of the mayor of Basel, Jacob Meyer, and his wife, Dorothea Kannengieseer, for whom he would later also paint an altarpiece. In 1517 Holbein moved to Lucerne, where he painted frescoes on both the interior and exterior walls of a mansion built by a prominent citizen. It was while he was working in Lucerne that he made his only visit to northern Italy, traveling for a few weeks to Milan and Mantua to study the work of Italian Renaissance artists such as Leonardo da Vinci and Andrea Mantegna.
Returning to Basel in 1519, Holbein took out citizenship, joined the painters guild, and married the widow of a tanner, Elsbeth Schmid. The 1520s were a profitable and busy time for Holbein, but as the Reformation gained strength, and religious paintings went out of favor, it became increasingly difficult for painters to get commissions other than for portraits. In 1526 Holbein made his first trip to England, armed with letters of introduction, including one from Erasmus to Sir Thomas More*; his success in England eventually persuaded him to return there in 1532.
It was in London in 1533 that Holbein painted what has become one of his best-known works, The Ambassadors, a double portrait that shows the French ambassadors to both the court of Henry VIII and the Vatican. It is a masterful display of technical virtuosity, including symbols of the new Renaissance learn­ing of the two men and a strange anamorphic, or stretched, skull across the lower portion. The painting marked the beginning of the period of Holbein s greatest success in England, leading to his appointment in 1536 as court painter to Henry VIII.
Holbein painted not only full-scale portraits of Henry VIII and others but also, encouraged by Luke Hornebolte,* miniature portraits. His miniatures were later greatly admired by Nicholas Hilliard.* Holbein s paintings of possible brides for Henry included those of Christina of Denmark (1538) and Anne of Cleves (1539). The latter was to create a problem, for the king, on finally meeting Anne, found her less attractive than Holbein had shown and quickly divorced her. Holbein does not seem to have been blamed. Being a servant of Henry VIII had its dangers, and Holbein saw three of his major patrons, Sir Thomas More, Anne Boleyn, and Thomas Cromwell, lose their heads. Holbein himself survived until 1543, when he died in London, possibly of the plague.
The paintings of Henry VIII himself, with his great bulk, proud stance, and extravagent displays of precious jewels and splendid fabrics, are pure royal propaganda. To this day the name of Henry VIII conjures up Holbein s images, a tribute to the skill of this most successful of court painters.
A. G. Dickens, ed., The Courts of Europe: Politics, Patronage, and Royalty, 1400-1800, 1977.
D. Wilson, Hans Holbein, 1996.
Rosemary Poole

Renaissance and Reformation 1500-1620: A Biographical Dictionary. . 2001.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • Holbein, Hans, the Younger — (b. 1497/98, Augsburg, Bishopric of Augsburg d. 1543, London, Eng.) German painter, draftsman, and designer renowned for the precise rendering of his drawings and the compelling realism of his portraits, particularly those recording the court of… …   Universalium

  • Holbein, Hans, The Elder — ▪ German painter born c. 1465, Imperial Free City of Augsburg [Germany] died 1524, Isenheim, Alsace [now in France]       German painter associated with the Augsburg school. He was the senior member of a family of painters that included his… …   Universalium

  • Holbein, Hans, the Elder —  (c. 1460–1524) German painter and father of Hans Holbein the Younger (1497–1543), court painter to Henry VIII of England …   Bryson’s dictionary for writers and editors

  • Hans Holbein the Younger — (c. 1497 ndash; between 7 October and 29 November 1543) was a German artist and printmaker who worked in a Northern Renaissance style. He is best known for his numerous portraits and his woodcut series of the Dance of Death , and is widely… …   Wikipedia

  • Hans Holbein the Younger — Hans Holbein [Hans Holbein] (also called Hans Holbein the Younger) (1497–1543) a German painter who from 1526 lived and worked in England. He was made the official royal painter in 1536 and is best known for his paintings of King ↑ …   Useful english dictionary

  • Hans Holbein the Younger — ➡ Holbein * * * …   Universalium

  • Holbein, Hans — (the Elder, ca. 1460 1534; the Younger, 1497 1543)    German painters, both natives of Augsburg. Little is known about the early life of Hans the Elder. His early work was in the late medieval style prevalent in southern Germany and influenced by …   Historical Dictionary of Renaissance

  • the younger — 1 used in comparing the ages of two people who are members of the same family He s the younger of her two brothers. 2 used to refer to the younger of two people (such as a father and son) who have the same name the painters Hans Holbein the Elder …   Useful english dictionary

  • Holbein the Younger, Hans — (1497/1498 1543)    German painter from Augsburg, trained by his father Hans Holbein the Elder, who was also a painter. In c. 1514, Holbein the Younger went to Basel where he entered the workshop of Hans Herbster. There he gained a reputation as… …   Dictionary of Renaissance art

  • Holbein the Younger — noun German painter and engraver noted for his portraits; he was commissioned by Henry VIII to provide portraits of the English king s prospective brides (1497 1543) • Syn: ↑Holbein, ↑Hans Holbein • Instance Hypernyms: ↑old master, ↑engraver …   Useful english dictionary

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