- Also known as
Hans Holbein the Elder
primary name: Holbein, Hans
- individual; painter/draughtsman; Swiss; Male
- Other dates
- 1460-1524 (circa)
- Painter, designer of woodcuts, glass-paintings, goldsmiths' work and sculpture. He was probably born in Augsburg in about 1460-65, and died allegedly in Isenheim in1524. Little is known of his early years, part of which he probably spent in Ulm and the Upper Rhineland. As a journeyman, he travelled at least as far as Cologne, where he would have seen the 'Columba' altarpiece of Rogier van der Weyden (1399/1400-64), and possibly also to the Netherlands, since the art of this region was an important influence on his style. He was active in Augsburg by 1490, the date of his painted wings of the altarpiece of St Afra (Basel, Kunstmuseum) which probably originated from the Benedictine church of Sts Ulrich and Afra in Augsburg. In 1493 he was a citizen of Ulm, but returned to Augsburg the following year where he lived until 1515, after which he is recorded in Isenheim and Lucerne.
Holbein was one of the foremost artists of his generation. He controlled a large workshop, which handled prestigious commissions not only in and around Augsburg but also further afield in Alsace and Frankfurt-am-Main. His most important works were large elaborate late Gothic altarpieces, on which sculptors such as Michel Erhart (active 1496-1522) and Gregor Erhart (active 1494-1540) also worked, and which are characterised by his distinctive, luminous colouring. Notable examples of these include the 'Weingartner' altarpiece, of 'Scenes from the life of the Virgin', signed and dated 1493 (Augsburg cathedral); a wing from the 'Kaisheimer' high altarpiece, with the 'Passion of Christ' on the outside and 'Scenes from the life of the Virgin' on the inside, signed and dated 1502 (Munich, Alte Pinakothek); and the altarpiece of 'St Catherine', dated 1512 (Augsburg, Staatsgalerie). Today, he is best known as a draughtsman. His numerous silverpoint portrait-drawings (many in Berlin Kupferstichkabinett; Basel, Kunstmuseum; Copenhagen, Statens Museum for Kunst), are mostly of citizens of Augsburg. In these the characteristics of the sitters are vividly portrayed with a masterly technique, only rivalled and eventually surpassed by his son Hans Holbein the Younger (q.v.).
- Norbert Lieb and Alfred Stange, 'Hans Holbein der Ältere', Munich 1960; Erwin Treu (ed) 'Die Malerfamilie Holbein in Basel' exhibition catalogue, Basel Kunstmuseum, 1960; Bruno Bushart (ed) 'Hans Holbein der Ältere Augsburg und die Kunst der Spätgotik', exhibition catalogue, Augsburg Rathaus, 1965; Katharina Krause, 'Hans Holbein der Ältere', Berlin, 2002.