There is an obvious mistake in my previous post  on Lucas Cranach The Elder and it’s Wikipedia’s fault. I copy and pasted “This accounts for the comparative unproductiveness as painters of Albrecht Dürer and Hans Holbein the Youngerdirectly from his page entry.

Portrait of Sir Thomas More, Holbein the Younger (1527).

Hans was not unproductive as a painter. He was one of the greatest portraitists of  the 16th century.  His Wikipedia page is an arts history bonanza (assuming it’s correct). There is absolutely no way to fit it all into one post. 


Holbein has been described as “the supreme representative of German Reformation art”. The Reformation was a varied movement, however, and his position was often ambiguous. Despite his ties with Erasmus and Sir Thomas More, he signed up to the revolution begun by Martin Luther, which called for a return to the bible and the overthrow of the papacy. 

And still more intrigue …

… Holbein returned to an England where the political and religious environment was changing radically.  In 1532, Henry VIII was preparing to repudiate Catherine of Aragon and marry Anne Boleyn, in defiance of the pope.

Among those who opposed Henry’s actions was Holbein’s former host and patron Sir Thomas More, who resigned as Lord Chancellor in May 1532.

Holbein seems to have distanced himself from More’s humanist milieu on this visit, and, according to Erasmus, “he deceived those to whom he was recommended”.

The artist found favour instead within the radical new power circles of the Boleyn family and Thomas Cromwell, who became the king’s secretary in 1534. Cromwell controlled all aspects of government, including artistic propaganda.  More was executed in 1535, along with John Fisher, whose portrait Holbein had also drawn. …

Erasmus by Hans Holbein the Younger (1523)


That said, I can now start the story with Hans and Prince of Humanists Desiderius Erasmus.  Hans and his brother, Ambrosius, are journeyman painters who move from Augsburg, Bavaria to Basel, Switzerland in 1515. Basel is a center for the printing trade and where Erasmus, a prolific source of printed material, lives.

Their acquaintance begins with pen illustrations to the margin of a copy of The Praise of Folly by Erasmus.  Then in 1523,  he paints a series of portraits of the famed Erasmus, making Hans an international artist. He decides to move to England in 1526, and Erasmus recommends him to his friend Sir Thomas More.

“The arts are freezing in this part of the world,” he wrote, “and he is on the way to England to pick up some angels”. 

 Sir Thomas More welcomed Hans to England and found him a series of commissions. “Your painter, my dearest Erasmus,” he wrote back, “is a wonderful artist”.


NOTE: I think the next post might begin with Hans at the Court of King Henry VIII …