Hans Holbein

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Hans Holbein

German painter, draftsman, printmaker and designer

Born circa 1497 - Died 1543

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HOLBEIN, HANS (YOUNGER) (1497-1543), German painter, favourite son of Hans Holbein the elder, was probably born at Augsburg about the year 1497. Though Sandrart and Van Mander declare that they do not know who gave him the first lessons, he doubtless received an artists education from his father. About 1515 he left Augsburg with Ambrose, his elder brother, to seek employment as an illustrator of books at Basel. His first patron is said to have been Erasmus, for whom, shortly after his arrival, he illustrated with pen-and-ink sketches an edition of the Encomium Moriae, now in the museum of Easel. But his chief occupation was that of drawing title page-blocks and initials for new editions of the Bible and classics issued from the presses of Froben and other publishers. His leisure hours, it is supposed, were devoted to the production of rough painters work, a schoolmasters sign in the Basel collection, a table with pictures of St Nobody in the library of the university at Zurich. In contrast with these coarse productions, the portraits of Jacob Meyer and his wife in the Basel museum, one of which purports to have been finished in 1516, are miracles of workmanship. It has always seemed difficult indeed ,to ascribe such excellent creations to Holbein's nineteenth year; and it is hardly credible that he should have been asked to do things of this kind so early, especially when it is remembered that neither he nor his brother Ambrose were then allowed to matriculate in the guild of Basel. Not till 1517 did Ambrose, whose life otherwise remains obscure, join that corporation; Hans, not overburdened with practice, wandered into Switzerland, where (1517) he was employed to paint in the house of Jacob Hertenstein at Lucerne. In 1519 Holbein reappeared at Basel, where he matriculated and, there is every reason to think, married. Whether, previous to this time, he took advantage of his vicinity to the Italian border to cross the Alps is uncertain. Van Mander says that he never was in Italy; yet the large wall-paintings which he executed after 1519 at Basel, and the series of his sketches and pictures which is still extant, might lead to the belief that Van Mander was misinformed. The spirit of Holbein's compositions for the Easel town hall, the scenery and architecture of his numerous drawings, and the cast of form in some of his imaginative portraits, make it more likely that he should have felt the direct influence of North Italian painting than that he should have taken Italian elements from imported works or prints. The Swiss at this period wandered in thousands to swell the ranks of the French or imperial armies fighting on Italian soil, and the road they took may have been followed by Hans on a more peaceful mission. He shows himself at all events familiar with Italian examples.

See also: Hohenzollernschie Forschungen, Jahrbuch fur die Geschichte der Hohenzollern, edited by C. Meyer (Berlin, 1891-1902); Hohenzollern Jahrbuch, Forschungen mid Abbildungen zur Geschichte der lichenzollern in Brandenburg-Preussen, edited by Seidel (Leipzig, I 897 1903), and T. Carlyle, History of Frederick the Great (London, 1872, 1873). (A. W. H.*)

Source: Entry on the artist in the 1911 Edition Encyclopedia.


brother of

collaborated with

  • Kratzer, Nicolaus

employer of

  • Lutzelburger, Hans

nephew of

  • Holbein, Sigmund

son of

Image courtesy of Don Kurtz