Portraits by Hans Holbein the Younger

Self-portrait of Hans Holbein the Younger (painted 1542-1543). Self-portrait of Hans Holbein the Younger (painted 1542-1543). Copyright the Uffizi Gallery, Florence.

The German artist Hans Holbein the Younger (c. 1497-1543) was the son of Hans Holbein (the Senior; c. 1465-1524), who was also a well-known painter. The younger Holbein grew up in Augsburg and then went to Basel (Switzerland) to study painting. Holbein the Younger is known for his fine drawings and paintings, especially those of a religious nature, and his portraits of North European royalty and notables.

Holbein is particularly famous for paintings with highly detailed elements, especially the clothing of his sitters and the soft furnishings, such as the carpets and curtains that surround them. Holbein travelled and worked in various European countries, including France, Italy, the Netherlands and Switzerland. In 1526 he travelled to London and worked as a fashionable portrait painter. He then returned to Basel for four years. He came back to London in 1532 and shortly afterwards was appointed King’s Painter at the court of King Henry VIII of England (r: 1509-1547).

During his career Holbein painted various portraits of the rich and famous of his time. His love of detail, especially that of textiles, meant that there are numerous decorative needlework details illustrated in the portraits. A look at over twenty of his portraits has indicated that the relevant techniques depicted include: blackwork; couching; cutwork, gold thread work; whitework and yellow work. In addition many of the painted garments have applied items, especially pearls.

See also the more specific TRC Needles entries on:

In addition there are several portraits in which the sitter appears to be wearing some form of embroidery, but it is not clear which type is being depicted:

  • Solothurn Madonna (1522): the bishop (to the left) is wearing an embroidered mitre and a cope with embroidered orphrey (p. 40, Kunstmuseum, Solothurn, Switzerland).
  • Portrait of Mary Wotton, Lady Guildford (1527): the sitter is wearing a gable hood (English hood) with a wide embroidered band with diagonal rows of red and black blocks. The front of the cap is decorated with applied pearls (p. 65, St. Louis Art Museum, cat. no. 6).

Source: BUCK, Stephanie and Jochen SANDER (eds.; 2003): Hans Holbein: Portraitist of the Renaissance, Zwolle: Uitgerij Waanders b.v.

Digital source of illustration (retrieved 30 May 2016)


Last modified on Sunday, 30 April 2017 09:02