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Hans Holbein the Younger



Hans Holbein the Younger (c. 14971543) was an artist who painted in the Northern Renaissance style.

He was born in Augsburg, Bavaria.

He first learned painting from his father Hans Holbein the Elder. Later he went with his brother Ambrosius Holbein to Basel where he met many scholars, among them the Dutch humanist Erasmus. Erasmus asked him to illustrate his satires. Holbein also illustrated other books, including contributing to Martin Luther's translation of the Bible. Like his father, he designed stained glass windows and painted portraits. The Reformation made it difficult for Holbein to support himself as an artist in Basel and he set out for London. Erasmus furnished him with a letter of introduction addressed to the English statesman and author Sir Thomas More. Holbein painted many portraits at the court of Henry VIII. While there he designed state robes for the king.

Holbein also designed many of the extravagant monuments and decorations for the coronation of Henry's second wife, Anne Boleyn, in the summer of 1533. Several sketches are in existence said to show Anne Boleyn, as sketched by Holbein. One, however, shows a woman dressed in a plain nightgown and with rather plump features. Some have said that this shows the queen when she was pregnant, sometime between 1533 and 1535, but recent research would suggest that this sketch is actually one of Anne's ladies-in-waiting, probably Lady Margaret Lee or one of her sisters. It seems more likely that any sketch or portrait Holbein painted of Anne Boleyn was destroyed after she was beheaded in 1536, on false charges of treason, adultery, incest and witchcraft.

Holbein definitely painted Henry's third wife, Jane Seymour, and his portrait of her accurately reflects Jane's appearance (she was not famed for her beauty). He also painted Jane's sister, Elizabeth Seymour, who married the son of Thomas Cromwell. This portrait was incorrectly identified as Henry's fifth wife, Queen Catherine Howard when it was discovered in the Victorian era.

In later years he worked in both Basel and London. On one of his stays in London he painted German merchant Georg Gisze at the Hanseatic League outpost in London, called the Steelyard (Stahlhof).

Holbein painted Anne of Cleves for Henry VIII during marriage negotiations, a common practice in the age before photography. Henry criticized the portrait as having been too flattering, but it seems more likely that Henry was more impressed by extravagant praise for Anne, rather than Holbein's portrait. There is some debate over whether or not a miniature of a young woman in a gold dress and jewels is in fact Holbein's painting of Henry's fifth wife, Catherine Howard.

While Holbein was working on another portrait of Henry, he died of plague.

Holbein always made a highly detailed portrait of his subject using pencil, ink and coloured chalk, now considered artpieces in their own right. He transferred the outline of these drawings onto the final painting using tiny holes in the painting through which powdered charcoal was transmitted. In later years, he used a kind of carbon paper. The original drawings were very detailed for the faces, but in general did not include the hands. Clothing was only indicated schematically. The original drawings thus had the same scale as the final paintings.


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