Hans Holbein

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Hans Holbein the Younger as played by Peter Gaynor
Court Portrait Artist & Designer

born 1497 - died November 29, 1543
Character's backstory: Son of Hans Holbein the Elder, Hans Holbein the Younger was arguably one of the greatest portrait artists of his time. Born in Augsburg, Germany, Holbein was taught his skill by his father and gained experience painting altar pieces and carving woodcuts. In 1515, the Holbiens moved to Basel, Switzerland a growing community of artists and humanist scholars. By 1525, Basel had become a difficult place for an aritist like Holbein to work. The religious and political influence of the Luthereans had by then took over, and production of nonreligious artwork was outlawed. Religious artwork, for that matter, was austere and very few projects would be commissioned by the new Lutheran society. With a letter of introduction from his patron and mentor Erasmus, Holbein traveled to England for the first time in 1526. Holbein went on to paint many in the court of King Henry VIII, including Thomas More, Anne Boleyn, Jane Seymour, and perhaps most infamously, Anne of Cleves. Henry charged Holbein to create as accurate a portrait of Anne as possible, and in all likelihood, Holbein did his best not to flatter the German princess (as was the common practice of the day). However, Henry attacked the portrait after his marriage for being too complimenting to Anne (not because, as was probably the case, he needed an excuse to rid himself of his new wife). In all likelihood, many historians today believe Holbein's depiction was accurate. Despite the criticism, Holbein continued to create portraitures for Henry, and it was while painting a portrait of the King that Holbein contracted what was likely the plague and died.

Thomas More (1526-1528), Anne Boleyn (1532 - 1536), Thomas Cromwell (1534 - 1540) and King Henry VIII

Position: Court portrait artist (from 1536)

Personality type: With an eye for detail, Holbein was noted for his ability to catch the personality of his subjects in his artwork. Very observant, and most likely an honest artist.

Signature look:

Endearing trait(s):

Annoying trait(s):

"..Hans Holbein Junior was a genius....He has provided us with that image of Henry VIII which, whether we like it or not, automatically comes to mind when ever the name of the king is mentioned. We see him standing belligerently, hands on hips, his barrel chest adorned with jewel-encrusted vesture, his codpiece thrusting forward. He glowers at us from the canvas, warning us to not even think of contradicting him. The portrait is a magnificent piece of propaganda, which has proved its effectiveness from the time of its creation in 1537 right down to the present day. However, (leaving aside issues of art appreciation) that is all it is -- propaganda. A starting point for a realistic understanding must be the rejection of this forceful icon. This is the Henry as he wanted to be seen-- strong, assertive, his own man, not only powerful but worthy of power. This image of 'Henry the magnificent" has always ,in the popular imagination, seen off other less flattering evaluations....Diarmid MacCulloch has not hesitated to compare the second Tudor to Joseph Stalin. The prevailing interpretation seems to be that of a monster but one who is nevertheless compelling -- aggressive, macho and definitely sexy. Like him or loath him, there is absolutely no doubt that 'Bluff King Hal' remains everlastingly fascinating" ~ Derek Wilson's A brief History of Henry VIII 2009

Hans Holbein as played by Peter Gaynor

"the cameraman of Tudor history"
~ John North
Matthew Parker (Anne Boleyn's chaplain
and later made Archbishop by Elizabeth I)

said that Hans Holbein's portraits were
"delineated and expressed to
the resemblance of life"

"Holbein's manner have I ever imitated,
and hold it for the best"

~ Nicholas Hilliard 16th century miniaturist artist

First Period: Basel (1515-1526)
Second Period: England (1526-1528)
Third Period: Basel (1528-1532)
Fourth Period: England (1532-1543)

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Family members:
Hans Holbein the Elder: Father
Ambrosius Holbein: Brother
Elsbeth Binzenstock: Wife
Phillip Holbein: Son
Catherine Holbein: Daughter

Magdalena Offenburg: was Holbein's model for such works as "Venus and Amour" and "Lais of Corinth", she may also have been his mistress for a time

Desiderius Erasmus
Sir Thomas More
King Henry VIII of England

German Lutherans

Portrait Techniques

Holbein always made highly detailed pencil drawings of his portrait subjects, often supplemented with ink and colored chalk. The drawings emphasize facial detail and usually did not include the hands; clothing was only indicated schematically. The outlines of these drawings were then transferred onto the support for the final painting using tiny holes in the paper through which powdered charcoal was transmitted; in later years Holbein used a kind of carbon paper.

The final paintings thus had the same scale
as the original drawings. Although the drawings were made as studies for paintings, they stand on their own as independent, finely wrought works of art.

He painted a few, superb, portrait miniatures, having been taught the art by Lucas Horenbout, a Flemish illuminator who was also a court artist of Henry. Horenbout painted Holbein in perhaps his best miniature, and the best portrait we have of Holbein, who never made a self portrait.

Modern day artist David Hockney has speculated in the <a class="external" href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hockney-Falco_thesis" rel="nofollow" target="_blank" title="Hockney-Falco thesis">Hockney-Falco thesis</a> that Holbein used a concave mirror to project an image of the subject onto the drawing surface. The image was then traced. However this thesis has not met with general acceptance from art historians.

Series of videos focusing on Hans Holbein the Younger's commissions for Henry VIII:
  • Paul Ganz, The Paintings of Hans Holbein (1st complete edition, 1950).
  • Arthur B. Chamberlain, Hans Holbein the Younger (2 vols., 1913).
  • K. T. Parker, The Drawings of Hans Holbein in the Collection of His Majesty the King at Windsor Castle (1945),
  • James M. Clark, The Dance of Death by Hans Holbein (1947).


  • "If I had seven peasants, I could make seven lords but if I had seven lords, I could not make one Holbein" Henry VIII to Sir Richard Tavistock when he complained about Holbein painting his nude fiance, Lady Ursula Misseldon

Ursula Misseldon
  • Deleted scene in season 1: Holbein relates to Thomas More how the Lutherans in Switzerland have outlawed the painting of non-religous subjects which forced him to look else where for work as a painter

*Click here for "The Works of Hans Holbein" - a more extensive page

Hans Holbein as played by Peter Gaynor
Hans Holbein the Younger
Hans Holbein with his first portrait of HenryHans Holbein paints Henry

JRM as Henry is painted by Hans Holbein
Holbein's painting close up

Holbein painting Ursula Misseldon

Holbein paints Lady Ursula Misseldon
Ursula Misseldon's painting
Although shown as a work of Holbein, this piece in reality is called "Venus at her Mirror (The Rokeby Venus), 1650 and painted by <a class="external" href="http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Diego_Vel%C3%A1zquez" rel="nofollow" target="_blank" title="Diego Velázquez">Diego Velázquez</a>. National Gallery, London.

See: The Tudors Inspirations
Hans Holbein with his lensCromwell tells Holbein how to paint Anne of Cleves

Hans Holbein
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JRM in Holbein's painting of Henry Henry VIII by Hans Holbein 1543
after Holbein

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Slideshow of Holbein's drawings of Court figures
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Some of Holbein's most famous works:
Henry VIII by Holbein
This is the only full length portrait by Hans Holbein himself which remains. It is a section of a preparatory drawing for a mural at Westminster Hall that included life-sized portraits of Jane Seymour and Henry's parents. The mural was destroyed by fire in 1698. All other portraits of Henry in this famous pose are copies by other artists. At this time, the pose was unusual, since standing with legs apart, though heroic, had been considered impolite; but it was later imitated, for example in portraits of Henry's son and heir Edward VI
Henry VIII by Holbein

Based on the drawing to the left
located in the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum in Madrid, Spain
Jane Seymour by Holbein
Jane Seymour
at the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna

Anne of Cleves by Holbein
Holbein's infamous portrait which led Henry VIII to fall in love
with her, only to be disappointed after they meet that
he "liked her not"
Located in Louvre Museum, Paris

Prince Edward Tudor by Holbein
Portrait of Prince Edward Tudor, Prince of Wales.
In the National Art Gallery in Washington

The text translated into English reads:
"Little one, emulate thy father and be the heir of his virtue;
the world contains nothing greater. Heaven and earth could scarcely produce a son whose glory would surpass that of
such a father. Do thou but equal the deeds of thy parent
and men can ask no more. Shouldst thou surpass him,
thou hast outstript all, nor shall any surpass
thee in ages to come.
By Sir Richard Morison.
Christina of Denmark by Holbein
Christina of Denmark
in the National Gallery, London
Holbein painted this portrait ofthe young widowed Duchess of Milan, for Henry who was considering her as a possible wife.
Thomas Cromwell by Holbein
Thomas Cromwell
The Frick Collection, New York City
Sir Thomas More
Sir Thomas More
in the Frick Collection, New York City
The Ambassadors by Holbein
"The Ambassadors"
one of Holbein's most famous masterpieces
in the National Gallery, London

For an up-close view of this famous painting check out : <a class="external" href="http://www.googleartproject.com/museums/nationalgallery/the-ambassadors" rel="nofollow" target="_blank" title="The Google art project">The Google art project</a>

About "The Ambassadors" by Hans Holbein and the detail:

skull in holbein painting
As well as being a double portrait, the painting contains a still life of several symbolic objects, the meaning of which is the cause of much debate such as the skewed (anamorphic) skull at the bottom of the painting - shown to the left . The viewer must approach the painting nearly from the side to see the form morph into a completely accurate rendering of a human skull.

One possibility is that this painting represents three levels:
- the heavens (as portrayed by the astrolabe and other objects on the upper shelf),
- the living world (as evidenced by books and a musical instrument on the lower shelf),
- and death (signified by the skull).
The upper left corner, is a crucifix with Jesus on the cross behind the curtain which may represent the diplomatic efforts to achieve reconciliation between Catholics and Protestants
The Family of Sir Thomas More
"The Family of Sir Thomas More" 1527
Holbein's Study for The Family of Sir Thomas More
Study for 1527 More Family Portrait
Noli me tangere
Noli me tanger
Allegory of the Old and New Testaments
"Allegory of the Old and New Testaments"
Henry VIII and the Barber Surgeons
"Henry VIII and the Barber Surgeons" 1543
The Artist's Family
The Family of Hans Holbein
His Wife, Elsabeth, son Philip and daughter Catherine