Religion, Renaissance, and Reformation—these three ideologies shaped the world of 16th-century portraitist Hans Holbein the Younger (1497/98–1543), a pivotal figure of the Northern Renaissance, whose skills took him to Switzerland, Belgium, Italy, and England, and garnered patrons and subjects as prestigious as Henry VIII, Thomas More, Anne of Cleves, and Reformation advocate Thomas Cromwell.
This book brings together key Holbein paintings to explore his illustrious and international career as well as the courtly drama and radical religious change that informed his work. With rich illustration, we survey the masterful draftsmanship and almost supernatural ability to control details, from the textures of luxurious clothing to the ornament of a room, that secured Holbein’s place as one of the greatest portraitists in Western art history.
His probing eye was matched with a draftsman. Along the way, we see how he combined meticulous mimesis with an inspired amalgam of regional painterly traits, from Flemish-style realism to late medieval German composition and Italian formal grandeur.
During his time in England, Holbein became official court painter to Henry VIII, producing both reformist propaganda and royalist paintings to bolster Henry’s status as monarch and as the new Supreme Head of the Church following the English Reformation. His portrait of Henry from 1537 is regarded not only as a portraiture pinnacle but also as an iconic record of this transformative monarch and the Tudor dynasty. Through this turbulent period, Holbein also produced anticlerical woodcuts, and sketched and painted Lutheran merchants, visiting ambassadors, and Henry’s notorious succession of wives.