Table of contents:
- 1. Biography
- 2. Religious art
- 3. Portraitist
- 4. Looking for style
- 5. Working with metal
- 6. Travel to England
- 7. Royal court and masterpieces
- 8. Change
- 9. Personal life
- 10. Legacy
Born in Germany in the late 15th century, Hans Holbein witnessed how the legacy of earlier northern European artists such as Jan van Eyck was developed by his contemporaries, including Hieronymus Bosch, Albrecht Durer and even his own father. Holbein the Younger made a major contribution to the Northern Renaissance, establishing himself as the most significant artist of the era. How he achieved such success and reputation - further in the article.
Hans Holbein is usually referred to as "The Younger" to distinguish him from his father. They had common names and goals. The elder Holbein was a painter who ran a large workshop in the city of Augsburg with the help of his brother Sigmund. It was under the tutelage of their father that young Hans and his brother Ambrosius learned the art of drawing, engraving and painting. Father and sons are depicted together in a triptych by Holbein the Elder in 1504, located in St. Paul's Basilica.
As teenagers, the brothers moved to Basel, the center of Germany's academic and publishing sectors, where they worked as engravers. Engraving was a very important medium at the time, as one of the only methods of mass production of images for wide distribution. While in Basel, Hans was also commissioned to paint portraits of the city's mayor and his wife. His earliest surviving portraits, reflecting the Gothic style beloved by his father, are very different from later works, which are rightfully considered his outstanding masterpieces.
2. Religious art
In the early 1920s, Hans established himself as an independent master, running his own workshop, becoming a citizen of Basel and a member of its artists' guild. It was a successful period for the young artist, who received numerous orders from both institutions and individuals. Some of them were secular, such as his designs for the walls of the town hall. However, most of them were religious, such as illustrations for new editions of the Bible and paintings of biblical scenes.
It was during this time that Lutheranism began to exert its influence in Basel. A few years earlier, the founder of Protestantism had nailed his ninety-five theses to the door of a church six hundred kilometers from Wittenberg. Interestingly, most of Hans's religious work during his years in Basel testifies to his sympathy for the new movement. For example, he created the title page for Martin Luther's Bible.
An early portrait of the mayor of Basel by Hans attracted the attention of several other important figures in the city, including the legendary scientist and philosopher Erasmus. Erasmus traveled gloriously across Europe, making numerous friends and associates with whom he regularly corresponded. In addition to his letters, he wanted to send them a picture of himself and therefore hired Hans to create his portrait. A relationship was established between the artist and the scientist, which proved to be extremely useful for Holbein the Younger in his future career.
4. Looking for style
Both in his father's workshop and in Basel, Hans was influenced by the late Gothic movement. At the time, it remained the most prominent style in the Netherlands and Germany.Gothic art featured exaggerated figures and emphasis on line, which meant that it tended to lack depth and dimension in contrast to its classical counterpart.
Scientists and art historians suggest that the artist's later works were associated with memories of travels in Europe, especially Italy. Significantly, Hans began to create both pictorial views and portraits such as Venus and Cupid (Cupid), which demonstrated a new understanding of perspective and proportion. While Venus's face retains elements of the Northern European style, her body, posture and posture of a little cupid are reminiscent of Italian masters.
Holbein is also known for learning new techniques from other foreign artists. For example, from the French artist Jean Clouet, he adopted the technique of using crayons for his sketches. In England, he learned to create valuable illustrated manuscripts that were used as symbols of wealth, status, and piety.
5. Working with metal
Later in his career, Hans added metalworking to a long list of skills he had already mastered. The artist worked directly for Henry VIII's infamous second wife, Anne Boleyn, creating jewelry, decorative plates and cups for her trinket collection.
He also made special items for the king himself, most notably the Greenwich armor that Henry wore when participating in tournaments. The intricately engraved armor was so impressive that for decades thereafter, it inspired English metalworkers to try and match Holbein's skill.
Many of Hans's drawings used traditional motifs seen in metalwork over the centuries, such as foliage and flowers. As Holbein gained experience, he began to focus on increasingly complex images, such as mermaids, that became a hallmark of his work.
6. Travel to England
In 1526, he traveled to England, using his connections with Erasmus to infiltrate the country's most elite social circles. Hans lived in England for two years, during which he snapped portraits of several high-ranking men and women, designed a stunning celestial ceiling mural for the dining room of a stately home, and painted a large panorama of the battle between the British and their eternal enemy, the French.
After four years in Basel, the artist returned to England in 1532 and remained there until his death in 1543. Many of his masterpieces were created during this latter period of his life, and he received the official title of royal artist. This meant that Hans could count on the financial and social support of one of the most influential people in the world as he continued to create fantastic works of art.
He approached his new role with full responsibility, creating the final portrait of Henry VIII, as well as several paintings with his wives and courtiers. Apart from these official works, Hans also continued to accept private commissions, the most lucrative, for a collection of London merchants who paid lavishly for individual portraits and large paintings for his guild.
7. Royal court and masterpieces
Along with his iconic portrait of Henry VIII, The Ambassadors are among Hans' most famous works. The painting depicts two Frenchmen who lived at the English court in 1533 and are filled with hidden meaning. Many of the items shown represent a division of the church, such as a half-hidden crucifix, a broken lute string, and a hymn written on scores. Such intricate symbolism demonstrates the artist's skill in detail.
The most striking feature, however, is undoubtedly the distorted skull that dominates the lower foreground. From a straight line, the rough outline of the skull can be almost discerned, but moving to the left the full shape becomes clear. Thus, Hans used his mastery of perspective to reflect the mysterious but undeniable nature of mortality.
After four years in Basel, Hans returned to a radically changed England. He arrived in the same year that Henry VIII left Rome, defying the pope's orders, separating from Catherine of Aragon and marrying Anne Boleyn. Although the social circle he formed during his first stay in England lost royal favor, Holbein managed to ingratiate himself with the new authorities, Thomas Cromwell and the Boleyn family. Cromwell was in charge of royal propaganda and used the artist's artistic skills to create a series of highly influential portraits of the royal family and court.
One of these portraits did not quite fit the plan and actually contributed to Cromwell's disfavor. In 1539, the minister arranged for Henry to marry his fourth wife, Anna of Cleves. He sent Hans to take a portrait of the bride to show to the king, and the flattering painting is said to have sealed the deal. However, when Heinrich saw Anna in person, he was very disappointed with her appearance, and their marriage was ultimately annulled. Fortunately for Hans, Heinrich did not revoke his artistic license, but simply accused Cromwell of a mistake.
9. Personal life
While in Basel, Hans married a widow several years older than himself, who already had one son. Together they had two more children: a son and a daughter, who are depicted in a wonderful painting called "The Artist's Family". Although the painting is painted in the style of Madonna and Child, the main atmosphere evoked in the painting is melancholy, apparently reflecting what was far from a happy marriage.
Except for one brief trip to Basel in 1540, there is no evidence that Hans visited his wife and children while living in England. Although he continued to support them financially, it was known that he was an unfaithful husband, and his will indicated that he was the father of two more children in England. Perhaps even more evidence of marital discord can be found in the fact that his wife sold almost all of his paintings that he left with her.
Much of Hans's legacy can be attributed to the fame of the figures he painted. From Erasmus to Henry VIII, his sitters were considered some of the most important people in the world. Their images will always attract interest and curiosity for centuries. His skill in such a wide variety of media and techniques has also ensured that he is remembered as a unique artist. Not only did he create incredibly lifelike portraits, he also produced delightful prints, truly impressive religious masterpieces, and some of the most revered armor of the time.
Hans worked on his own, without a large workshop or a crowd of assistants, which meant that he did not leave behind an art school. Later artists, however, tried to emulate the clarity and complexity of his work, but none of them achieved the same level of success in so many different forms of art. During his lifetime, Holbein's reputation was won through his multifaceted talents, and after his death, his fame was secured by the many masterpieces he created.
And in continuation of the theme about artists - eight little-known facts about Wassily Kandinsky, who can rightfully be considered the recognized father of abstract art.
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