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a family of German painters and graphic artists of the 15th and 16th centuries.
Hans Holbein the Elder. Born circa 1465 in Augsburg; died 1524 in Isenheim, now a suburb of Guebwiller, Alsace, France.
Holbein worked in Augsburg, Ulm (1494), Frankfurt am Main (1501), and Isenheim. His early and mature works, including the Weingarten Altar (1493, Augsburg Cathedral) and the St. Catherine Altar (1512, City Gallery, Augsburg), are mostly in the late Gothic style. They are known for expressive and dynamic composition and color contrasts. Holbein’s later works, for example, the St. Sebastian Altar (1515–16, Old Pinakothek, Munich), reveal some borrowings of architectural decorative motifs from contemporary Italian art, often combined with its formal artistic means. Holbein’s interest in the human individual is most brilliantly revealed in his silverpoint and pen-and-ink portraits.
Hans Holbein the Younger. Born circa 1497–98 in Augsburg; died between Oct. 7 and Nov. 29, 1543, in London. Son of Hans Holbein the Elder.
Holbein studied with his father. He worked in Basel from 1515 to 1526. His religious paintings of this period include The Dead Christ (1521, Public Art Collection, Basel), which is marked by a strictly objective approach to religious themes, and the classically composed Madonna of the Burgomaster Meyer (1525–26, Gran-ducal Palace, Darmstadt). During his years in Basel, Holbein also painted portraits of burghers, emphasizing their inner dignity and strength. Holbein’s portraits of humanists, for example, Erasmus of Rotterdam (1523, Louvre, Paris), conveyed the subject’s intellectual powers. Other works include the frescoes in the House of Dance in Basel (not preserved), and graphic works, including portrait drawings and book illustrations (for example the pen-and-ink illustrations to Erasmus’ In Praise of Folly (1515, Public Art Collection, Basel). From 1524 to 1526, Holbein worked on sketches for the series Dance of Death (published in 1538 as woodcuts by H. Lützelburger), which were allegorical commentaries on German life at the time of the Peasant War.
In 1526, Holbein went to England with a letter of recommendation from Erasmus to the English humanists. His London portraits are noted for their highly accurate social and psychological characterization, as seen in The Astronomer Nicholas Kratzer (1528, Louve, Paris) and, especially, in the drawing Thomas More (silverpoint, coal, and sanguine; 1527; Windsor Castle).
In 1528, Holbein returned to Basel, where he drew illustrations to the Bible (published in 1538 as woodcuts by Lützelburger). He returned to England in 1532 and became the court artist of Henry VIII in 1536. Outstanding portraits from this period include those of the German merchant G. Gisze (1532, Picture Gallery, Berlin-Darmstadt), the French ambassador C. Morette (c. 1534–35, Dresden Picture Gallery), and the English queen Jane Seymour (1536, Museum of Art and History, Vienna). Holbein also did several murals, for example, the murals of the Steelyard in London (1541–43, not preserved).
Holbein is known in the history of art mainly as a painter of portraits representing one of the highest achievements of Renaissance culture.
REFERENCES[Nemilov, A.] G. Gol’bein Mladshii (album). Moscow-Leningrad, 1962.
Libman, M. Ia. Diurer i ego epokha. Moscow, 1972. Pages 173–87.
Schmid, H. A. Hans Holbein der Jüngere, vols. 1–3. Basel, 1945–48.
Pinder, W. Vom Wesen und Werden deutschen Formen, vol. 4: Holbein der Jüngere und das Ende der altdeutschen Kunst. Cologne .
Lieb, N., and A. Stange. Hans Holbein der Altere. [Berlin] 1960.