Explore / Articles
Hans Holbein the Younger (1497-1543)
Born in Augsburg, Bavaria, Holbein trained with his father, Hans Holbein the Elder, who operated a successful workshop. In 1515, he moved to Basel, where he worked for a circle of intellectuals and their printers. His first major paintings were the portraits of the mayor of Basel, Jacob Meyer and his wife in 1516, and in 1521/2 he painted the famous Dead Christ (all in the Kunstmuseum, Basel).
Social and religious conflict caused by the Protestant Reformation in Switzerland made Holbein seek elsewhere for patronage. After an unsuccessful visit to France in 1524, he travelled to England in 1526 with an introduction to Sir Thomas More from the scholar Erasmus, whose portrait he had painted in 1523. He stayed for two years producing portraits at the court of Henry VIII, before returning to Basel where his wife and two children lived. A particularly violent burst of iconoclasm in Basel in 1529 amid an atmosphere of religious crisis made Holbein decide to return to England in 1532. Henry VIII commissioned a mural for Whitehall Palace glorifying the Tudor dynasty (destroyed by fire in 1698), which is recorded in Holbein's preparatory cartoon (National Portrait Gallery, London). The famous image of Henry, hands on his hips and legs astride, derives from this mural.
Holbein died suddenly in London in 1543 of the plague. His fame rests on his superlative painted portraits, such as the dazzling Ambassadors and the unknown Lady with a Squirrel and a Starling (both National Gallery, London) and his vivid yet informal portrait drawings (many in the Royal Collection at Windsor Castle).