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Hans Holbein

Hans Holbein
Title: Hans Holbein
Release Date: 2018-12-02
Type book: Text
Copyright Status: Public domain in the USA.
Date added: 27 March 2019
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Bell’s Miniature Series of Painters.

Edited by G. C. Williamson, Litt.D.

Pott 8vo., with 8 Illustrations, issued in cloth or in limp leather.

VELAZQUEZ. By G. C. Williamson, Litt.D.
SIR E. BURNE-JONES. By Malcolm Bell.
FRA ANGELICO. By G. C. Williamson, Litt.D.
G. F. WATTS, R.A. By C. T. Bateman.
WATTEAU. By Edgcumbe Staley, B.A.
GEORGE ROMNEY. By Rowley Cleeve.
HOLMAN HUNT. By G. C. Williamson, Litt.D.
HOLBEIN. By Arthur B. Chamberlain.


REYNOLDS. By Rowley Cleeve.
LEIGHTON. By G. C. Williamson, Litt.D.
SIR L. ALMA-TADEMA. By H. Zimmern.
J. F. MILLET. By Arthur Tomson.
SIR J. E. MILLAIS, P.R.A. By A. Lys Baldry.

York Street, Covent Garden.



[Image unavailable.]
Hanfstängl photo.][National Gallery.


Bell’s Miniature Series of Painters







Life of Hans Holbein 1
Early Days in Augsburg and Basle1
First Visit to England9
Return to Basle13
Second Residence in England15
The Art of Holbein23
Large Decorative Works and Wall-Paintings25
Religious Paintings29
Book Illustrations and Ornamental Woodcuts32
Designs for Goldsmiths and other Craftsmen34
Portrait Painting36
Our Illustrations44
List of the Artist’s Chief Works61
Chronology of the Artist’s Life69
Chief Books on Holbein71



Portrait of the Duchess of MilanCollection of the Duke of Norfolk, now lent to the National Gallery Frontispiece
The Meyer MadonnaDarmstadt 32
The AmbassadorsNational Gallery46
Portrait of ErasmusCollection of the Earl of Radnor, Longford Castle50
Portrait of Georg GiszeBerlin Gallery52
Portrait of Robert ChesemanThe Hague Gallery56
Mary Magdalen at the Sepulchre Hampton Court58
Drawing of Sir Thomas More Windsor Castle60




HANS HOLBEIN was born, in 1497, at Augsburg, in Swabia, SouthernGermany, to which town his grandfather, Michael Holbein, had moved, sometime before 1454, from the neighbouring village of Schönenfeld. Hisfather, known to-day as Holbein the elder, to distinguish him from hismore celebrated son, was one of the leading painters of Augsburg, and anartist of importance in the history of German art.

The elder Holbein was one of the first of German painters stronglyinfluenced by the Italian Renaissance, and a chronological study of hispictures shows very clearly how great a change was gradually takingplace north of the Alps both in artistic ideals and technical methods,through an increasing knowledge of what the great painters of theSouthern peninsula had accomplished. In his early work he shows himselfto be a follower of Rogier van der Weyden and his school, but towardsthe end of the first decade of the sixteenth century the Gothicqualities of his painting, with its many hardnesses and angularities,begin to disappear, and a closer observation and a more truthfulrendering of{2} nature to take their place. He threw off one by one hisRhenish traditions, and replaced them by the methods of the Van Eycks,which reached him indirectly through the mellowing influence of theearlier Venetian painters. He developed, too, a fondness for richarchitectural decoration of the Renaissance type for the backgrounds andsettings of his pictures, in the use of which his son, later on, becameso perfect a master.

As a result of certain forged documents and false inscriptions, a numberof interesting works, formerly ascribed rightly to the father, weretaken from him and given to the son, and hailed as signs of precociousgenius. Even the father’s masterpiece, The Martyrdom of St. Sebastianat Munich, did not escape the enthusiasm of the younger artist’sbiographers. Modern criticism, however, has restored to the father aseries of works which place him among the leading painters of Germany atthe dawn of the new movement in art.

Hans Holbein the younger seems to have received no artistic trainingexcept that which he gained in his father’s studio or workshop, wherehis elder brother Ambrosius was also engaged. His uncle Sigismund, too,was an Augsburg painter, and may have helped in his instruction. Hisfather, though constantly in debt and difficulties, seems to havereceived numerous orders for altar-pieces and other sacred pictures, sothat the workshop was a busy one, and no doubt young Hans began at anearly age to help in such minor details as the painting of draperiesand{3} backgrounds. Much of his genius was inherited from his father,particularly that remarkable power of portraying character with a fewvivid strokes of the pencil which is one of the crowning glories of hisart.

In those days a young painter generally finished his education by a yearor two of travel before settling down as a master painter in the guildof his native town. Ambrose and Hans Holbein seem to have followed theprevailing fashion, leaving Augsburg towards the end of 1514 or early in1515. In the latter year the father went to Issenheim in High Alsace topaint an altar-piece, and the two young men may have gone with him.There is some probability, too, that the whole family settled in Lucerneabout this time. In any case, the two sons were residing in Basle beforethe end of 1515, any plan of extended travel being cut short by theprospect of plenty of work. At that time Basle was the northern centreof the great revival of literature and learning, and several of itsprinters were of European reputation. Many of the chief works of theleading humanist writers were first published in Basle, and decoratedwith woodcut illustrations and ornamental title-pages and borders. Theprospect of employment upon “black-and-white” work of this kind was, nodoubt, one of the chief attractions which brought the two young paintersto the town. Nor were they disappointed, for shortly after their arrivala commission was given to them by Johann Froben, Erasmus’s publisher,and the principal printer of the city.{4}

It is not unlikely that the young men first of all entered the workshopof some Basle painter, such as that of Hans Herbster, whose portrait waspainted in 1516 by one of the two brothers. Until recently this picturewas in the collection of the Earl of Northbrook, and ascribed to Hans,but since its acquisition by the Basle Museum it has been attributed toAmbrose. The latter, of whose work we know very little, seems to havebeen an artist of only moderate capabilities. He joined the Painters’Guild in Basle in 1517, and, as no record of him has been found laterthan 1519, he is supposed to have died young.

During the next seven or eight years Holbein designed a number of bookillustrations for Froben, Adam Petri, Thomas Wolff, and other printers.He was ready, however, to turn his hand to anything. He painted a tablewith an amusing allegory of St. Nobody for the wedding of Hans Bär inBasle on June 24, 1515, and in the same year supplied a schoolmasterwith a sign-board to hang outside his house.

It is uncertain when Holbein first became acquainted with the greatscholar of Antwerp, Desiderius Erasmus, who had come to Basle in 1513for the purpose of superintending the publishing of his books, nor is iteasy to say to what degree of intimacy the artist was admitted by thisbrilliant humanist. Erasmus had the greatest admiration for his powersas an artist, and served him whenever he could, both by employing himhimself and recommending him to others. During Holbein’s first year inBasle, Erasmus had pub{5}lished through Froben his famous and wittysatire, “The Praise of Folly,” and the artist made a number of drawingson the margins of a copy of this book, illustrating passages in thetext. He seems to have done them at the suggestion of anotherdistinguished man of letters, Oswald Molitor, of Lucerne, at that timeemployed by Froben, who selected the passages to be illustrated; and anote in his handwriting says that they were finished on December 29,1515, and that Erasmus was greatly entertained by them. The originalbook is now in the Basle Museum.

Holbein soon began to give proof of his wonderful abilities as aportrait painter. One of the first commissions he received was in 1516,from Jacob Meyer, Burgomaster of Basle, whom he painted, together withhis young second wife, Dorothea Kannegiesser, a double portrait in oneframe (Basle Museum). The burgomaster was pleased with the result, andremained the artist’s constant good friend, procuring important publiccommissions for him, as well as making further private use of histalents.

In 1517 he left Basle for Lucerne, where, according to Dr. von Liebenau,his father was then residing. He was made a member of therecently-founded Painters’ Guild of St. Luke, and also joined a localcompany of archers. On December 10, 1517, he was in trouble with themagistrates, being fined for taking part in some street brawl, afterwhich he appears to have left Lucerne for a time. He can be traced asfar south as Altdorf by the remains of a few pictures.{6} If he evervisited Italy it would be at this period. One or two writers hold thathe made some such journey, and point to several paintings in the BasleMuseum as proof that he must have had personal acquaintance with certainachievements of Leonardo and his school, which he could only have seenin Italy; but the influence of Mantegna and Da Vinci, which, thoughplainly detected in his early work, is by no means a predominant one,may be easily accounted for through the numerous Italian engravings thencirculating throughout Europe, without any actual visit to Lombardy onthe part of the artist. He was back in Lucerne in 1518, busily engagedupon the decoration of the house of the magistrate, Jacob vonHertenstein, which he covered with frescoes both inside and out. Theremains of this great work were destroyed in 1824, when the house wasdemolished for street improvements, but not before the chief designs hadbeen hastily copied by Schwegher, Ulrich von Eschenbach, and otherLucerne artists. This was by far the most important undertaking uponwhich Holbein had as yet been engaged, and it was the first of asplendid series of decorative works of which, unhappily, nothing remainsbut their fame and a few slight preliminary sketches or indifferentcopies. No one north of the Alps came near to him in the fertility ofdesign and beauty of execution and of colour displayed by him in thisadaptation of a favourite method of Italian decoration which becamepopular in the sixteenth century in certain parts of Germany andSwitzerland.{7}

Holbein was back in Basle in 1519. He joined the Painters’ Guild onSeptember 25, and on July 3 in the following year paid his fees as aburgher of the city. One of the first portraits he now undertook wasthat of Bonifacius Amerbach, a brilliant young scholar and intimatefriend of Erasmus and other learned men.

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