The Early Modern World, C. 1300–1600

Sixteenth-Century European Art and Architecture

Who was Hans Holbein?

Hans Holbein the Younger (c. 1497–1543) was a leading German painter who went on to become the court painter to English king Henry VIII. Holbein was a skilled realist with great ability to capture texture and fine detail. His work included religious paintings, prints, and even designs for stained glass windows, but he was particularly well known for his portraits, especially his portrait of Henry VIII in 1540. The painting depicts the formidably sized king dressed in his finest clothes against a dark background. The king wears an ornately embroidered coat with yellow, puffed sleeves, fine jewelry, and a feathered hat in celebration of his marriage to Anne of Cleves, his fourth wife. The oil paint captures the rich textures of the fabric and Holbein emphasizes the girth and power of the king’s frame. The king’s decision to invite a German painter, rather than an Italian artist, to his court highlights the strain between England and Italy after the Reformation.


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