Hans Holbein the Younger (Biographical details)

Hans Holbein the Younger (painter/draughtsman; Swiss; German; Male; 1497/8 - 1543)

Also known as

Holbein, Hans


Painter, draughtsman and designer of woodcuts, glass-paintings, metalwork, jewellery;. born Augsburg 1497/8- died London 1543. Son of Hans Holbein the Elder (q.v.), and younger brother of Ambrosius Holbein (q.v.);early training with father. Worked in Basel as a journeyman at the end of 1515, and first employed there with Ambrosius by humanist scholars and their printers. In1516 painted double portrait of the mayor of Basel, Jacob Meyer, and his wife (Basel, Kunstmuseum). Between 1517 and1519 Hans assisted his father with mural decorations for inside and the outside of the new town house in Lucerne of Jacob von Hertenstein. In the autumn of 1519 Hans was admitted to the painters' guild in Basel, becoming a citizen in the following summer. The major commissions of the 'Dead Christ' of 1521/2 (Basel, Kunstmuseum), the decorations of the Haus 'zum Tanz', now destroyed and decorations in 1521/2 of the council chamber of the newly rebuilt town hall with murals (now largely destroyed) were made at this time. Against a background of social and religious strife in Basel in 1524 Holbein visited France, doubtless in the hope of obtaining royal patronage, and on his return produced two masterpieces, the 'Passion Altarpiece' (Basel, Kunstmuseum) and the 'Meyer Madonna' (Darmstadt, Prinz von Hessen und bei Rhein) which was commissioned in 1526 and completed in 1528. With an introduction from Erasmus to Sir Thomas More he left Basel for England at the end of August 1526 and stayed for two years working in the court circle before returning to Basel. Holbein spent the next four years in Basel chiefly completing the town hall decorations, and painting the 'Portrait of his wife and two elder children' (Basel, Kunstmuseum), who were to be left behind when he returned to settle in England in 1532. His chief commission for Henry VIII was the mural painting glorifying the Tudor dynasty in the Whitehall Palace (destroyed in the fire of 1698; part of Holbein's cartoon for it is in the National Portrait Gallery, London). The mural was to be the source of various portraits of Henry VIII by followers of Holbein. Throughout this period Holbein produced a succession of magnificent portraits. The most striking are the 'Ambassadors' of 1533 and the portrait of Christina of Denmark, 1538 (in the National Gallery, London). His final image of the King was commissioned by the Company of Barber Surgeons, 'Henry VIII granting a charter to the Barber-Surgeons' (London, Barber-Surgeons' Hall). He was still a royal servant on his death, probably from the plague, in November 1543. Holbein's genius as a draughtsman has always been acknowledged and he left a large group of drawings in his studios in both London and Basel. The majority of his woodcuts were designed in Basel; they include striking images of Lutheran subject matter and many book illustrations. Of the few designed in England (but cut on the continent) the most important was the title-page of the Coverdale Bible of 1535 (Hollstein, 94), the new English Bible produced after Henry VIII became Supreme Head of the Church.


J. Rowlands, 'Holbein: The Paintings of Hans Holbein the Younger, Complete Edition', Oxford, 1985; S.Foister, 'Holbein and England' London and New Haven, 2004; C. Müller,'Hans Holbein die Jüngere: die Jahre in Basel 1515-1532' exhibition catalogue, Basel, 2006; S. Foister, ' Holbein in England' exhibition catalogue, London, Tate Britain, 2006. For prints: Hollstein series, vols xiv, xiva and xivb, 1988; for later uses of blocks and copies, see F. Hieronymus, 'Oberrheinische Buchillustration 2. Basler Buchillustration 1500 bis 1545', exh. cat., Universitäts-bibliothek, Basel, 1984; C. Müller, 'Hans Holbein d.J.: Die Druckgraphik im Kupferstichkabinett Basel', Basel 1997; D. Paisey and G.Bartrum, 'Hans Holbein and Miles Coverdale: A New Woodcut', Print Quarterly, xxvi, 2009, 3, pp.227-253; For drawings: K. T. Parker, 'The Drawings of Hans Holbein in the Collection of His Majesty the King at Windsor Castle', Oxford and London, 1945; 2nd edition Johnson reprint, with an appendix to the catalogue by Susan Foister, London and New York, 1983; for those in the British Museum, see Rowlands, 307-75; C. Müller, 'Hans Holbein der Jüngere: Zeichnungen aus dem Kupferstichkabinett der Öffentlichen Kunstsammlung Basel', exh. cat., Basel, Kunstmuseum, 1988; V. Button, 'Work in progress: Holbein's drawing processes', V&A Conservation Journal, Autumn 2009, special issue no. 58, http://www.vam.ac.uk/content/journals/conservation-journal/autumn-2009-issue-58/work-in-progress-holbeins-drawing-processes/