Hans Holbein: Portrait of an Unknown Man
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One of the greatest artists of the Renaissance, Hans Holbein the Younger was also a complex and fascinating man who knew Erasmus, Thomas More, Henry VIII and many of the sixteenth century's wielders of power and influence. He developed his own distinctive attitudes towards religion, politics and social life as he moved among stalwart burghers, merchant adventurers and the bejewelled denizens of a glittering court.
The Elizabethan artist Nicolas Hilliard recognised him as 'the greatest Master in [portraiture] that ever was'. Yet the range of Holbein's talent went far beyond painting likenesses. He was constantly in demand for trompe-l'oeil murals and intricate jewellery designs, and he revolutionized book illustration. He produced Catholic altarpieces and Protestant propaganda engravings, woodcuts and drawings depicting the stories of the bible.
In this fascinating biography, acclaimed historian Derek Wilson gives a fresh account of Holbein's motives and paintings, suggesting that they included coded signals and propaganda about political figures of the time. Hans Holbein: Portrait of an Unknown Man is a controversial reinterpretation which presents the artist as a man inextricably bound up in the stirring events of a creative and turbulent age.
single-handed. This valiant soldier and captain of Christ … as he was most studious of himself in a flagrant zeal to set forward the truth of the Gospel, seeking all ways and means to beat down false religion and to advance the true, so he always retained unto him and had about him such as could be found helpers and furtherers of the same; in the number of whom were sundry and divers fresh and quick wits, pertaining to his family; by whose industry and ingenious labours, divers excellent ballads
him his talent, his international contacts and his knowledge of members of the More circle. All were at the disposal of his new patron. He also had the potential to be a very useful intelligence-gatherer. As a painter he had access to the households of leading figures in whom Mr Secretary had an interest. Just as Cromwell placed agents in abbeys where there might be resistance to his policies, so he encouraged Holbein to acquire as clients men on whom he wanted information. At the top of the
forth of a new English Bible with the instruction that a copy should be placed in every church. The Great Bible carried a splendid frontispiece by one of Holbein’s pupils. The explanation why Holbein himself was not appointed to carry out this important project is that the work was done during 1538 when he was otherwise engaged on royal commissions abroad. The book ran into considerable production problems and it was not until late in the following year that it actually became available. In
masterpieces in themselves, they reveal Holbein’s responses to the turbulent events through which he was living. The ubiquity of death is emphatically not the message of the drawings. At most the memento mori motif is a subterfuge, a loose camouflage thrown over the cannon of Holbein’s militant wit. We understand the Dance of Death only if we set it against the background of 1520s socio-religious satirical debate. In the propaganda war that was being waged more fiercely year by year, no means of
a picture of a marriage in which genuine affection has become strained by separation. Single-parenting was no less common in the sixteenth century than it is now and no less hard. For two years, throughout much of which she was pregnant, Elsbeth had coped single-handed. Her husband had returned full of honours, much needed cash and stories about the fine ladies and gentlemen of the English court, but he had also come to tell her that he was home only for a short visit. Soon she would be deserted