Hans Holbein the Younger, Renaissance artist, second son of the painter Hans Holbein the Elder (1465-1524), was born in the winter of 1497/1498 in Augsburg and spent his apprenticeship years in the workshop of his father, who was active in southern Germany and Alsace.
Holbain began in Basel and Lucerne a brilliant career as a portrait painter, wood engraver and stained glass designer, as well as author of monumental decorations for house facades. He immediately had access to the mayor of Basel and the members of the municipal council, to the important printers of the city, to the humanists Erasmus of Rotterdam and Beatus Rhenanus, and also to the mayor of Lucerne.
In Basel, in addition to numerous secular and religious commissions, he carried out important private commissions. All his mural decorations have been lost, due, among other causes, to the deficient technique used by Holbein (painting «al secco»), to the damages caused by the humidity and the scarce interest of the owners of the houses.
In 1526, provided with letters of recommendation from Erasmus of Rotterdam to Pierre Gilles (town clerk of Antwerp) and to Thomas More, Holbain traveled for the first time to England. In the portraits of Erasmus of Rotterdam that he had painted in 1523, Holbein had adopted the Dutch portrait model of Quentin Metsys, and this was the type that he took to England, modifying it with full success in the portraits of Thomas More, William Warham, Archbishop of Canterbury, and Nicolaus Kratzer, court astronomer to Henry VIII.
This portrait(Musée du Louvre) shows the sage half-length, seated at his work table and surrounded by the instruments relating to his knowledge. As he had done in the portraits of Erasmus of Rotterdam, Holbain characterized the astronomer Kratzer not only through his physiognomy, but also through his surroundings, presided in Erasmus’s case by books and in Kratzer’s by scientific instruments.
This type of portraits, based on the physiognomy of the personage and his intellectual environment, which was Holbein’s specialty, only has a parallel, within the same period, in the portraits executed by Lorenzo Lotto.
In England, during the years 1523-1524, Holbein worked as a portraitist for the Hanseatic merchants of London (of which the «Portrait of Georg Gisze» in the Gemaldegalerie in Berlin is a good example), for the courtiers and for the French ambassador in England, Jean de Dintiville, of whom in 1533 he executed a portrait accompanied by George de Selve («The Ambassadors», National Gallery, London). In 1534-1535 he painted the half-length portrait of Dinteville’s successor, Charles de Solier, Sire de Morette (Gemaldegalerie, Dresden).
Few details of Holbein’s stay at the royal court in England are documented. His tasks included painting the sovereign Henry VIII, portraying his prospective wives and designing luxury and utility objects. Other indications of his activity in the royal court of England are the portraits of courtiers that appear documented from 1533 onwards.
SOME WORKS OF INTEREST
PORTRAIT OF ERASMUS OF ROTTERDAM…..1523, panel painting, 43 x 33 cm, Musée du Louvre
CHRIST IN THE SEPTULCH…..1521-1522, panel painting, 31 x 200 cm, Kunstsammlung, Basel
FACADE OF THE HOUSE ZUM TANZ…..1523-1524, mural decoration of the building facade, Basel
PORTRAIT OF CHARLES DE SOLIER, LORD OF MORETTE…..1534-1535, panel painting, 92 x 74 cm, Gemaldegalerie, Dresden
PORTRAIT OF GEORG GISZE…..1532, panel painting, 96 x 86 cm, Gemaldegalerie, Berlin
THE AMBASSADORS DINTEVILLE AND DE SELVE…..1533, panel painting, 206 x 20o cm, National Gallery, London
PORTRAIT OF NICOLAUS KRATZER…..1526, panel painting, Musée du Louvre