by Beatrice Fortescue
Illustration: Hans Holbein the Younger
Coloured Chalks. Basel Museum
LITTLE BOOKS ON ART GENERAL EDITOR: CYRIL DAVENPORT
BY BEATRICE FORTESCUE
WITH FORTY-SIX ILLUSTRATIONS
METHUEN &CO. 36 ESSEX STREET W.C. LONDON
First published in 1904
HOLBEIN'S PERIOD, PARENTAGE, AND EARLY WORK
Historical epoch and antecedentsSpecial conditions and
of early Christian artIdeals and influence of the
relation to mediæval schoolsHis father, uncle, and
homeProbable dates for his birth and his father's
and dispersion of the Augsburg householdFrom Augsburg to
brother AmbroseErasmus and the Praise of Folly;
impressions of bothErasmus and Holbein no Protestants at
heartHolbein and the BibleIllustrated Vernacular Bibles
circulation before Luther and Holbein were bornHolbein's
Basel oil-paintingsDirect and indirect
geographical, and scientific revolutions of his
his connection with the Burgomaster of BaselJacob Meyer
HasenHolbein's woodcutsHis studies from natureSudden
to LucerneItalian influence on his artWork for the
of Lucerne 1
HOLBEIN BASILIENSIS (1519-1526)
Holbein BasiliensisEnters the Painters'
Amerbach and his portraitThe Last Supper and its
Fountain of Life at LisbonGenius for design and
architectureVersatility, humour, fighting scenesHolbein
citizen and marriesBasel in 1519Froben's
and issues of the timeHolbein's religious worksThe
Adoration at FreiburgHans OberriedtThe Basel Passion in
panelsPassion DrawingsChrist in the tombChrist and
at the door of the sepulchreRathaus wall-paintingsBirth
Holbein's eldest childThe Solothurn Madonna: its discovery
rescueHolbein's wife and her portraitsSuggested
some biographical enigmasTitle pagesPortraits of
to France, probably to Lyons and AvignonPublishers and
the so-called Dance of DeathDorothea Offenburg as Venus
CorinthiacaTriumph of the Protestant partyHolbein
leave Basel for a timeThe Meyer-Madonna of Darmstadt and
and its portraits 45
CHANCES AND CHANGES (1526-1530)
First visit to EnglandSir Thomas More: his home and
Windsor drawingsBishop FisherArchbishop WarhamBishop
StokesleySir Henry Guildford and his portraitNicholas
Bryan TukeHolbein's return to BaselPortrait-group of his
two eldest children; two versionsHolbein's children, and
claiming descent from himIconoclastic furyRuined
Meyer zum HasenAnother Meyer commissions the last paintings
BaselReturn to EnglandDescription of the
its membersGeorge GyszeBasel Council summons Holbein
Ambassadors at the National Gallery; accepted
of Queen Anne BoleynLost paintings for the Guildhall of the
the Triumphs of Riches and PovertyThe great Morett
identificationsHolbein's industry and fertilityDesigns
metal-work and other drawingsSolomon and the Queen of Sheba
PAINTER ROYAL (1536-1543)
Queen Jane SeymourDeath of Erasmus, and title-page
Whitehall painting of Henry VIII.Munich drawing of Henry
of an heir and the Jane Seymour CupDeath of the
Duchess of MilanSecret service for the KingFlying visit
to Basel and
arrangements for a permanent returnApprentices his son
ParisPortrait of the Prince of Wales and the King's return
of ClevesThomas Howard, Duke of NorfolkCatherine
of Holbein's Basel citizenshipIrregularitiesProvision for
and childrenResidence in LondonExecution of Queen
HowardMarriage of Catherine ParrDr. ChamberUnfinished
for the Barber-Surgeons' HallDeath of HolbeinHis
burialHolbein's genius: its true character and greatness
CATALOGUE OF PRINCIPAL EXISTING WORKS 188
LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS
1. HOLBEIN Frontispiece
Self Portrait. From a photograph in the Rischgitz
2. PROSY AND HANS HOLBEIN 16
Drawn by their father, Hans Holbein the elder.
3. SCHOOLMASTER'S SIGNBOARD 26
Oils. (Basel Museum.)
4. JACOB MEYER (ZUM HASEN) 31
Oils. (Basel Museum.) From a photograph in the Rischgitz
5. DOROTHEA MEYER (née KANNEGIESSER) 31
Oils. (Basel Museum.) From a photograph in the Rischgitz
6. BONIFACIUS AMERBACH 46
Oils. (Basel Museum.)
7. FIGHT OF LANDSKNECHTE 58
Washed drawing. (Basel Museum.) From a Photograph in the
8. THE NATIVITY 72
Oils. (University Chapel, Freiburg Cathedral.)
From a photograph by G. Röbke, Freiburg.
9. THE PASSION 74
I. GETHSEMANE. II. THE KISS OF JUDAS.
III. BEFORE PONTIUS PILATE. IV. THE SCOURGING.
V. THE MOCKING. VI. THE WAY TO CALVARY.
VII. IT IS FINISHED. VIII. THE ENTOMBMENT.
Eight-panelled Altar-piece. (Basel Museum.)
10. CHRIST IN THE GRAVE 78
Oils. (Basel Museum.)
11. THE RISEN CHRIST 82
Oils. (Hampton Court Gallery.)
12. THE SOLOTHURN, OR ZETTER'SCHE, MADONNA 86
Oils. (Solothurn Museum.) From a photograph by
Braun, Clement, and Cie., Paris.
13. UNNAMED PORTRAIT-STUDY; NOT CATALOGUED AS HOLBEIN'S 94
Silver-point and Indian ink. (Louvre Collection. Believed
by the writer to be Holbein's drawing of his wife before
her first marriage, and the model for the Solothurn
From a photograph by Braun, Clement, and Cie., Paris.
14. ERASMUS 98
Oils. (The Louvre.) From a photograph by A. Giraudon,
15. THE PLOUGHMAN; THE PRIEST 102
Images of Death. Woodcut series.
16. DOROTHEA OFFENBURG AS THE GODDESS OF LOVE 104
Oils. (Basel Museum.) From a photograph in the Rischgitz
17. DOROTHEA OFFENBURG AS LAÏS CORINTHIACA 106
Oils. (Basel Museum.) From a photograph in the Rischgitz
18. THE MEYER-MADONNA 109
Oils. (Grand Ducal Collection, Darmstadt.)
From a photograph by F. Hanfstaengl.
19. THE MEYER-MADONNA 109
(Later Version. Held by many to be a copy.) Oils.
(Dresden Gallery.) From a photograph by F. Hanfstaengl.
20. SIR THOMAS MORE 116
Chalks. (Windsor Castle.) From a photograph by F.
21. JOHN FISHER, BISHOP OF ROCHESTER 118
Chalks. (Windsor Castle.) From a photograph by F.
22. SIR HENRY GUILDFORD 120
Oils. (Windsor Castle.) From a photograph by F.
23. NICHOLAS KRATZER 122
Oils. (The Louvre.)
24. SIR BRYAN TUKE 124
Oils. (Munich Gallery.) From a photograph by F.
25. ELSBETH, HOLBEIN'S WIFE, WITH THEIR TWO ELDEST CHILDREN 126
Oils. (Basel Museum.) From a photograph in the Rischgitz
26. BEHOLD TO OBEY IS BETTER THAN SACRIFICE. SAMUEL
DENOUNCING SAUL 134
Washed drawing. (Basel Museum.)
From a photograph in the Rischgitz Collection.
27. JÖRG (OR GEORGE) GYZE 142
Oils. (Berlin Museum.) From a photograph by F.
28. THE AMBASSADORS 146
Oils. (National Gallery.) From a photograph by F.
29. THE MORETT PORTRAIT 152
Oils. (Dresden Gallery.) From a photograph by F.
30. QUEEN JANE SEYMOUR 158
Oils. (Vienna Gallery.) From a photograph by F.
31. KING HENRY VIII. AND HIS FATHER 160
Fragment of cartoon used for the Whitehall wall-painting.
(Duke of Devonshire's Collection.)
32. KING HENRY VIII. 162
(Life Study; probably for the Whitehall Painting.)
Chalks. (Munich Collection.) From a photograph by F.
33. DESIGN FOR THE JANE SEYMOUR CUP 164
34. CHRISTINA OF DENMARK, DUCHESS OF MILAN 166
Oils. (National Gallery.) Lent by the Duke of Norfolk.
35. ANNE OF CLEVES 172
Oils. (The Louvre.) From a photograph by A. Giraudon,
36. THOMAS HOWARD, THIRD DUKE OF NORFOLK 174
Oils. (Windsor Castle.) From a photograph by F.
37. CATHERINE HOWARD 176
Chalk drawing. (Windsor Castle.)
38. DR. CHAMBER 180
Oils. (Vienna Gallery.) From a photograph by F.
CHAPTER I. HOLBEIN'S PERIOD,
PARENTAGE, AND EARLY WORK
Historical epoch and antecedentsSpecial conditions and character
of early Christian artIdeals and influence of the
relation to mediæval schoolsHis father, uncle, and Augsburg
homeProbable dates for his birth and his father's
and dispersion of the Augsburg householdFrom Augsburg to
brother AmbroseErasmus and the Praise of Folly; some
impressions of bothErasmus and Holbein no Protestants at
heartHolbein and the BibleIllustrated vernacular Bibles in
circulation before Luther and Holbein were bornHolbein's
Basel oil paintingsDirect and indirect educationHistorical,
geographical, and scientific revolutions of his dayBeginning of
his connection with the Burgomaster of BaselJacob Meyer zum
HasenHolbein's woodcutsHis studies from natureSudden visit
LucerneItalian influence on his artWork for the Burgomaster
The eighty-three years stretching from 1461 to 1543between the
probable year of the elder Hans Holbein's birth and that in which the
younger, the great Holbein, diedconstitute one of those periods which
rightly deserve the much-abused name of an Epoch. The Christian era of
itself had known many: the Yellow-Danger of the fifth century making
one hideous smear across Europe; the Hic Jacet with which this
same century entombed an Empire three continents could not content; the
new impulse which Charlemagne and Alfred had given to Progress in the
ninth century; the triumphant establishment of Papal Supremacy, that
Napoleonic idea of Gregory VII.Sanctus Satanas, of the
eleventh, and grand architect in a vaster Roman Empire which still
humanly contends for glory; and lastly, at the very threshold of the
Holbeins, the invention of movable printing types about 1440, and the
fall of Constantinople in 1453, which combined to drive the prodigies
and potencies of Greek genius through the world.
Each of these had done its own special work for the advancement of
manas for that matter all things must, whether by help or
helplessness. Not less than Elijah did the wretched priests of Baal
serve those slow, sure, eternal Purposes, which include an Ahab and all
the futile fury of his little life as the sun includes its spots.
But although the stream of History is one, and its every succeeding
curve only an expansion of the first, there has probably been no
century of our era when this stream has been so suddenly enlarged, or
bent so sharply toward fresh constellations as in that of the
Holbeins,when Religion and Art, as well as Science, saw a New World
upon its astonished horizon. So that we properly call it a transition
period, and its representative men transitional.
Yet we shall never get near to these real men, to their real world,
unless we can forget all about the pose of this or the other
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
For we must keep constantly in mind that what we call the Middle
Ages orworse yetthe Dark Ages, made up the Yesterday of the
Holbeins and was the flesh and blood transmitted to them as their own
flesh and blood with all its living bonds toward the Old and all its
living impulses toward the New.
A now famous New Zealander is, we know, to sketch our own
mediævalism with contemptuous pity for its darkness. But until his
day comes, our farthing-dips seem to make a gaudy illumination. And,
meantime, we are alive; we walk about; we, too, can swell the chorus
which the Initiated chant in every century with the same fond
confidence: We alone enjoy the Holy Light.
The New is ever becoming old; the old ever changing into New. And if
we ask why each waxes or wanes just when it does and as it does, there
is, in the last analysis, no better answer than Aurora's explanation
for chancing on the poets
Because the time was ripe.
And the Holbein century is one of stupendous Transitions because the
time was ripe; and not simply because printing was invented, or Greek
scholars were driven from Constantinople to scatter abroad in Europe,
or Ferdinand and Isabella wanted a direct route to Cathay, or Friar
Martin nailed ninety-five Theses to the door of Wittenberg's church,
and built himself thereby an everlasting name as Luther.
And because the time was ripe for a new Art, even more than because
this or that great painter entrained it, it also had its transition
period, and Holbein is set down in manuals as a transitional painter.
Teutonic, too; because all Christian art is either Byzantine or Italian
or Teutonic in its type.
When it first crept from the catacombs under the protection of the
Constantinople Court it could but be Byzantine; that strange composite
obtained by stripping the Greek beast of every pagan beauty and then
decking it out with crude Oriental ornament. But who that prizes the
peculiar product of that fanaticism would have had its cradle without
this sleepless terror, lest for the whole world of classic heathendom
it should lose the dear-bought soul of purely Christian ideals? Or who,
remembering that in thus relentlessly sacrificing its entire heritage
of pagan accumulation it put back the clock of Art to the Stone Age,
and had to begin all over again in the helpless bewilderment of
untaught childish effort,could find twice ten centuries too long for
the astounding feat it achieved? Ten centuries, after all, make but a
marvellous short course betwixt the archaic compositions of the third
century and the compositions of Giotto or Wilhelm Meister.
A great deal of nonsense is talked about the tyrannies which the
Monastic Age inflicted on Art. Of course, monasticism fostered
fanaticism. It does not need the luminous genius that said it, to teach
us that whatever is necessary to what we make our sole object is sure,
in some way or in some time or other, to become our master. And with
the monk, the true monk in his day of usefulness, every knowledge and
every art was good or bad according as it served monastic ideals. But
it is absurd to say that the monkqua monkput the intellect
in chains. The whole body of his oppression was not so paralysing as
the iron little finger of Malherbe and his school of classic despots.
To charge upon the monk the limitations of his crude thought and cruder
methods is about as intelligent as it would be to fall foul of
Shakespeare because boys played his women's parts.
The springs of Helicon were the monk's also, as witness Tuotilo and
Bernard of Clairvaux; but it was by the waters of Jordan that his
miracles were wrought. As Johnson somewhere says of Watts, every kind
of knowledge was by the piety of his mind converted into theology. And
for the rest,by the labour of his hands, by his fasting from the
things of the flesh, by his lofty faithhowever erring or forgotten or
betrayed, in individual cases,by every impressive lesson of a hard
life lived unto others and a hard death died unto himself, century
after century it was the monk who taught and helped the barbarian of
every land to turn the desolate freedom of the wild ass into a smiling
homestead and the savage Africa of his own heart into at least a better
place. The marvel is that he could at the same time find room or energy
to make his monastery also a laboratory, a library, and a studio. And
yet he did.
To say that he abhorred Greek ideals is to say that the shepherd
abhors the wolf. His life was one long fight with the insidious poison
of the Greek. He did not,at any rate in his best daysbelieve at all
in Art for Art's sake; and had far too intimate an acquaintance with
the natural man to do him even justice. What he wanted was to do away
Yet with all its repellent features, it is to this unflinching
exclusiveness of the monkish ideal that we owe one of the most
exquisite blossoms on the stock of the thirteenth and fourteenth
centuries,their innocent and appealing art; an art as original and as
worthy of reverence, within its own peculiar province, as the
masterpieces of Greece or Italy. You must turn from the beauty of
Antinous to the beauty of, say, the Saint Veronica, among the works of
the Cologne school at Munich, before you can estimate the Gulf of many
things besides time which for ever divides the world of the one from
the world of the other. And then you must essay to embody the visions
of Patmos with a child's colour-box and brushes, before you can compare
the achievementsthe amazing achievementsof the monkish ideal with
the achievements of classic paganism.
With the school of Wilhelm Meister this tremendous revolution had
accomplished itself; and solely through the indomitable will of the
monk. The ideal of Greece had been to show how gods walk the earth.
This Christian ideal was to show how devout men and women walk with
God. Their ineffable heavenly faces look out from their golden world
Divinest, sweetest, best,
upon this far-off, far other world, where nothing is inviolate, and
divinest things must come at last to tears and ashes.
But the monk had had his day as well as his way. The so-called
Gothic architecture had expressed its uttermost of aspiration and
tenuity; and painting had fulfilled its utmost accommodation to the
ever more slender wall-spaces and forms which this architecture
necessitated. And once again, in the fifteenth century, the time was
ripe for a new transition. Art was now to reveal the realities of this
world, and to concern itself with Man among them. And just as the law
of reaction flung the mind into religious revolt from the outworn
dogmas and overgrown pretensions of the monkish ideal, so did it drive
the healthy reaction of art into its own extravagances of protest. And
we shall see how even a genius like Holbein's was unable to entirely
free itself from this reactionary defect. For with all his astonishing
powers, imaginative and technical, he never wholly overcame that defect
of making his figures too short and too thick-set for grace, which
amounted to a deformity in the full-length figures of his early work,
and was due to his fierce revolt from the unnaturally elongated forms
of an earlier period.
Yet we should make a grave mistake if we were to regard Holbein as
cut off by this reaction from all affinities with the monkish ideals of
the Cologne school. On the contrary. We shall see, especially in his
religious pictures, how many of those ideals had fed the very springs
of his imagination and sunk deep into his art; only expressing
themselves in his own symbolism and in forms unlike theirs.
* * * * *
In the Augsburg Gallery there is a painting by Holbein's father, the
Basilica of St. Paul, in which there is a group introduced after the
fashion of the period, which has a special biographical interest. This
group, in the Baptism of St. Paul, is believed by many authorities to
be a portrait-group of the painter himself,Hans Holbein the Elder,
and his two young sons, Ambrose (or Amprosy, as it was often written)
and Johannes, or Hanns. The portrait of the father is certainly like
Holbein's own drawing of him in the Duke d'Aumale's Collection, which
Sandrart engraved in his account of the younger Holbein; while the
heads of the two boys are very like those which we shall find later in
a drawing in the Berlin Gallery. From the pronounced way in which his
father's hand rests on little Hans' head, while the left points him
out,and even his elder brother Prosy shows by his attitude the
special notice to be taken of Hans,it is clear that if this is a
portrait-group either it was painted when the boys were actually older,
or the younger had already given some astonishing proof of that
precocity which his early works display; for in this group the younger
boy cannot be more than eight or nine years old.
Hans Holbein the Elder, who stands here with his long brown hair and
beard falling over his fur gown, was a citizen of Augsburg, living for
a while in the same street with the honoured Augsburg painter, Hans
Burgkmair, and occasionally working with him on large commissions. That
he was a native of Augsburg, and the sonas is generally believedof
Michel Holbain (Augsburg commonly spelt Holbein with an a
), leather-dresserI myself cannot feel so sure as others do. There is
no documentary evidence to prove that the Michael Holbein of Augsburg
ever had a son, and there is both documentary and circumstantial
evidence to prove that the descendants of Hans Holbein the Elder
claimed a different origin. That a man was a citizen, or burgher, of
any town, of course proves nothing. It was a period when painters
especially learned their trades and practised it in many centres. And
this, when guilds were all-powerful and no one could either join one
without taking citizenship with it, or pursue its calling in any given
place without association with the guild of that place, often involved
a series of citizenships. The elder Holbein was himself a burgher of
Ulm at one time, if not of other cities in which he worked.
But that Augsburg was his fixed home for the greater part of his
life is certain; and the rate-books show that after the leather-dresser
had disappeared from their register of residents in the retail business
quarter of the city, in the neighbourhood of the Lech canals, Hans
Holbein the Elder was, in 1494, a householder in this very place. For
some years the name of Sigmund, his brother, is bracketed with his;
but about 1517 Sigmund Holbein established himself in Berne, where he
accumulated a very respectable competence, which, at his death in 1540,
he bequeathed to his dear nephew, Hans Holbein, the painter, at that
time a citizen of Basel. Sigmund also was a painter, but no
unquestioned work of his is known.
There is nothing to show who was the wife of Sigmund Holbein's elder
brother, Hans. But by 1499 this elder Hans had either a child or
children mentioned with him (sein kind, applying equally to one
or more). In all probability this is the earliest discoverable record
of Hans Holbein the Younger, and his elder brother Ambrose. In all
probability, too, Hans was then about two years old, and Prosy a year
or two older. At one time it was vaguely thought that the elder Hans
had three sons; and Prosy, or Brosie, as it was sometimes written,
got converted into a Bruno Holbein. But no vestige of an actual Bruno
is to be found. And as Ambrose Holbein's trail, whether in rate-books
or art-records, utterly vanishes after 1519, it will be seen that for
the most part of the younger Holbein's life he had no brother. Hence it
is easy to understand how his uncle Sigmund's Will speaks only of my
Hans the elder lived far on in his younger son's life. His works
attest that he had talents and ideals of no mean order. But I do not
propose to enter here upon the vexed question as to how far the
Renaissance characteristics of the later works attributed to his hand
are his own or his son's. Learned and exhaustive arguments have by
turns consigned the best of these works to the father, to the son, and
back again to the father. In at least one instance of high authority
the same writer has, at different periods, held a brief for both sides
and for opposite opinions! In this connection, as on the battlefield of
some of the son's greatest paintings, the single-minded student of
Holbein may not unprofitably draw three conclusions from the copious
literature on the subject:First, that a working hypothesis is not of
necessity the right one; secondly, that in the matter of his
pronouncements the critical expert also may occasionally be regarded as
Un animal qui s'habille, déshabille et babille toujours;
and thirdly, that in default of incontestable documentary proofs the
modest so far as I have been able to discover of Holbein's first
biographer, Van Mander, is a capital anchor to windward, and is at any
rate preferable to driving forth upon the howling waters of
Classification, like Constance upon the Sea of Greece, Alle
sterelesse, God wot.
But my chief reason for not pursuing the Protean phantom of
Holbein's Augsburg period is that,apart from my own disagreement with
many accepted views about the works it includes, and the utter lack of
data or determining any position irrefutably,it is comparatively
unimportant to the purpose of this little book. For wherever the
younger painter was born,whether at Augsburg or Ulm or
elsewhere,and whatever I believe to be his rightful claim to such
paintings as the St. Elizabeth and St. Barbara of the St. Sebastian
altar-piece at Munich, Fame, like Van Mander, has rightly written him
down Holbein Basiliensis.
It is true that his father's brushes were his alphabet. It may be
true, though I doubt it, that his father's teaching was his only
technical school. But if he was, as to the last he gloried in being,
the child of the Old Period, he was much more truly the immediate pupil
of the Van Eycks than of his father's irresolute ideals; while Basel
was his university. And whatever may have been his debt to those
childish years when the little Iulus followed his father with trembling
steps, his debt to Basel was immensely greater. The door-sill of Johann
Froben's printing-house was the threshold of his earthly immortality.
When he turned his back on the low-vaulted years of Augsburg, it was
because for him also the time was ripe. The Old Period had cast his
genius; the New was to expand it to new powers and purposes.
Still, as the spiral grew,
He left the past year's dwelling for the new;
Stole with soft step its shining archway through,
Built up its idle door,
Stretch'd in his last-found home and knew the old no more.
* * * * *
It may easily have been the elder Hans' continuous troubles, whether
due to his fault or his misfortune it is idle now to inquire, which
made his sons leave Augsburg. Certain it is that he but escaped from
the clutches of one suit for debt after another in order to tumble into
some fresh disaster of the sort, until his own brother Sigmund appears
among his exasperated creditors. After 1524 Hans Holbein the Elder
vanishes from the records. Probably, therefore, it was at about this
date that he paid,Heaven and himself only knowing how willingly,the
one debt which every man pays at the last.
At all events his sons did leave Augsburg about 1514; or, at any
rate, Hans did, since there is a naïve little Virgin and Child in the
Basel Museum, dated 1514, which must have been painted in the
neighbourhood of Constance in this year,probably for the village
church where it was discovered. As everything points to the conclusion
that Holbein was born in 1497, he would have been some seventeen years
old at this time, and Prosy eighteen or nineteen. Substantially,
therefore, they must have looked pretty much as in the drawing which
their father had made of them three years before; that precious drawing
in silver-point which is now in the Berlin Collection (Plate 2). Over
the elder, still with the curly locks of the group in the St. Paul
Basilica, is written Prosy; over the younger, Hanns. The
age of the latter, fourteen, may still be deciphered above his
portrait, but that of Ambrose has quite vanished. Between the two is
the family name, written in Augsburg fashion, Holbain. At the top of
the sheet stands the year of the drawing, almost illegible, but
believed to be 1511.
Illustration: PLATE 2
PROSY AND HANNS HOLBAIN
[Drawn by their father, Hans Holbein the elder]
Silver-point. Berlin Cabinet
Of the elder brother all that is certainly known may be said here
once for all. In 1517 he entered the Painters' Guild at Basel, where he
is called Ambrosius Holbein, citizen of Augsburg. He made a number of
designs for wood-engraving, title-pages, and ornaments, for the
printers of Baselall of fair merit. He may also have worked in the
studio of Hans Herbster, a Basel painter of considerable note.
Herbster's portrait in oils, long held to be a fine work of the younger
brother,now that it has passed from the Earl of Northbrook's
collection to that of the Basel Museum, is attributed to Ambrose
Holbein. But little else is known of him; and after 1519, as has been
said, the absence of any record of him among the living suggests that
he died in that year.
In the late summer of 1515 came that momentous trifle which has for
ever linked the name of young Hans Holbein with that of Erasmus.
Whether, as some say, the scholar gave him the order, or, as seems more
likely, some friend of both had the copy, now in the Basel Museum, on
the margins of which the lad drew his spirited pen-and-ink
sketches,it is on record that they were made before the end of
December, and that Erasmus himself was delighted with their wit and
vigour. And, in truth, they are exceedingly clever, both in the art
with which a few strokes suggest a picture, and in that by which the
picture emphasises every telling point in the satire. But a great deal
too much has been built upon both the satire and the sketches; a great
deal, also, falsely built upon them.
They have been made to do duty, in default of all genuine proofs, as
supports to the theory by which Protestant writers have claimed both
Erasmus and Holbein as followers of Luther in their hearts, without
sufficient courage or zeal to declare themselves such. I confess that,
though myself no less ardent as a Protestant than as an admirer of
Holbein, I cannot, for the life of me, see any justification for either
the claim or its implied charge of timorousness.
Erasmus's Praise of Follylike so many a paradox started as
a joke,had no notion of being serious at all until it was seriously
attacked. Some four years before its illustrations riveted the name of
a stripling artist to that of the world-renowned scholar, Erasmus had
fallen ill while a guest in the sunny Bucklersbury home where three
tiny daughters and a baby son were the darlings of Sir Thomas More and
his wife. To beguile the tedium of convalescence the invalid had
scribbled off a jeu d'esprit, with its punning play on More's name,
Encomium Moriæ, in which every theme for laughter, in a far from
squeamish day, was collected under that title. Read aloud to More and
his friends, it was declared much too good to be limited to private
circulation; and accordingly, with some revision and expansion, it was
printed. That it scourged with its mockery those things in both Church
and State which Erasmus and More and many another fervent Churchman
hated,such as the crying evils which called aloud for reformation in
the highest places, and above all, that it lashed the detested friars
whom the best churchmen most loathed,these things were foregone
conclusions in such a composition. But a laugh, even a satirical laugh,
at the expense of excrescences or follies in one's camp, is a very far
cry from going over to its foes. As a huge joke Erasmus wrote the
Praise of Folly; as such More and all his circle lauded it; as such
Froben reprinted it; and as such young Holbein pointed all its laughing
And it was part and parcel of the joke that he launched his own sly
arrow at the author himself. Erasmus could but laugh at the adroitness
with which the young man from Augsburg had drawn a reverend scholar
writing away at his desk, among the votaries of Folly, and written
Erasmus over his head. But it was hardly to be expected that he
should altogether relish the witty implication, or the presumption of
the unknown painter who had ventured to make it. Nor did he. Turning
over a page he also contrived to turn the laugh yet once again, this
time against the too-presuming artist. Finding, perhaps, the coarsest
of the sketches, one in keeping with the fat and splendid pig from the
drove of Epicurus, he in his turn wrote the name of Holbein
above the wanton boor at his carousals. It was a reprisal not more
delicate than the spirit with which subjects too sacred to have been
named in the same breath with Folly,the very words of our Lord
Himself,had been dragged into such company. But though it, too, was a
joke, this little slap of wounded amour propre has found writers to
draw from it an entire theory that Holbein led a life of debauchery!
Yet even this feat of deduction is surpassed by that which argues
that because Erasmus and Holbein lashed bad prelates and vicious monks
with satire, therefore they detested the whole hierarchy of Rome and
loathed all monks, good or bad. Erasmus laid the egg which Luther
hatched is the oft-repeated cry; forgetting or ignoring the plain fact
that Erasmus eyed the Lutheran egg with no little mistrust in its shell
and with unequivocal disgust in its full-feathered development. What
connection have I with Luther, he writes some three years after
Holbein illustrated Stultitia's worshippers, or what recompense have I
to expect from him that I should join with him to oppose the Church of
Rome, which I take to be the true part of the Church Catholic, or to
oppose the Roman Pontiff who is the head of the Catholic Church? I am
not so impious as to dissent from the Church nor so ungrateful as to
dissent from Leo, from whom I have received uncommon favour and
As to Holbein's Protestant sympathiesusing the name for the
whole Lutheran movement in which Protestantism had its rise,the
assertions are even less grounded in fact, if that be possible. If he
had it not already in his heart, through Erasmus and Amerbach and
Froben and More and every other great influence to which he yielded
himself at all, he early acquired a deep and devout sense of the need
of reform within the Church. Like all these lifelong friends, he
wanted to see the Church of Rome return to her purer days and cast off
the corruptions of a profligate idleness. Like them he couched his
lance against the unworthy priest, the gluttonous or licentious monk,
the wolves in sheep's clothing that were destroying the fold from
within. Like them, as they re-echoed Coletthe saintly Dean of St.
Paul's,he passionately favoured the translation of the Scriptures
into the vernacular and placing them in the hands, or at any rate
bringing them to the familiar knowledge, of peasant as well as prelate.
But surely one must know very little of the teachings of the stoutest
Churchmen of Holbein's day and acquaintance not to know also that they
encouraged if they did not plant these opinions in his mind.
Dürer's woodcuts and engravings, especially his various scenes from
the Passion, writes even Woltmann, the biographer to whom every
student of Holbein owes so grateful a debt, had prepared the soil
among the people for Luther's translation of the Bible. Holbein's
pictures from the Old Testament followed in their wake, and helped
forward the work. Yet it seems difficult to suppose that Woltmann
could have been ignorant of the facts of the case. So far were
Holbein's, or any other artist's, Bible illustrations or Bible pictures
from arguing a Lutheran monopoly in the vernacular Bible, that in
Germany alone there were fifteen translated and illustrated editions of
the Bible before Luther's appeared; and of these fifteen some
half-dozen were published before Luther was born. Quentell, at Cologne,
for instance, published a famous translation with exceedingly good
woodcuts in 1480,three years before Luther's birth. While some nine
years before Quentell's German translation, the Abbot Niccolo Malermi
published his Biblia Vulgare in the Italian vernacular, which
went through twenty editions in less than a century: one of
which,brought out at Venice in 1490 by the Giunta Brothers,was
illustrated by woodcuts of the greatest beauty. So widespread was the
demand for this Malermi Bible that another edition, with new
illustrations of almost equal merit, was produced at Venice in 1493, by
the printer known as Anima Mia. All of these were vernacular
Bibles; all illustrated; all widely known throughout Italy and Germany
before Holbein was born or Luther was in his tenth year. And certainly
it has not yet been suggested by the most rabid Protestantism that
either these or any of the many other illustrated vernacular Bibles
printed long before Luther's great translation,a translation with a
special claim to immortality because it may be said to have set the
standard for modern German,were anything but Roman Catholic Bibles.
They were translated and illustrated in behalf of no doctrine which
Protestantism does not hold in common with the Church of Rome.
To lose hold of these things, to lose sight of the true attitude of
Holbein in his Bible woodcuts and his Images of Death, or of either
Erasmus or Holbein in their satires on the flagrant abuses within their
Church, and their unwavering devotion to that Church,is to
deliberately throw away the clue to the most vital qualities in the
work of either, and to the whole course and character of Holbein
himself, no less than to that of his lifelong friend and benefactor.
* * * * *
In 1515 the young painter who had come to Basel to better his
fortunes painted a table for Hans Bär's wedding. The bridegroom marched
away, carrying the Basel colours, to the bloody field of Marignano (or
Melegnano) in this same year, and never came back to sit with his
smiling bride around Holbein's most amusing conceitswhere Saint
Nobody was depicted among all the catastrophes of which he is the
scapegoat, and a few ordinary triflesa letter, a pair of spectacles,
etc.were marvellously represented, as if dropped by chance above the
painted decorations, so that people were always attempting to pick them
up. But Hans Bär's sister had been the first wife of a certain brave
comradeMeyer of the Hare, who did come back and played an important
part in young Holbein's career. Long lost among forgotten rubbish, Hans
Bär's table has been unearthed, and is now preserved in the town
library at Zurich.
But although Holbein had got his foot on the ladder of fame in this
year's beginning of his connection with Froben, he was as yet very
thankful to accept any commission, however humble. And as a human
document there is a touch of peculiar, almost pathetic interest about
the Schoolmaster's Signboard preserved by Bonifacius Amerbach, and now
with his collection in the Basel Museum (Plate 3). It is a simple
thing, with no pretension to a place among works of artthis bit of
flotsam from 1516, when it was painted. Originally the two views, the
Infant Class and the Adult Class, were on opposite sides of the sign;
but they have been carefully split apart so as to be seen side by side.
In the one is the quaint but usual Dame's School of the period; in the
other the public is informed how the adults of Basel may retrieve the
lack of such early opportunities. The inscription above each sets forth
how whosoever wishes to do so can be taught to read and write
correctly, and be furnished with all the essentials of a decent
education at a very moderate cost; children on the usual terms. And
there is a delightful clause to say that if anyone is too dull-witted
to learn at all, no payment will be accepted, be it Burger or
Apprentice, Wife or Maid.
Somehow, looking at the young fellow at the right of the table, in
the Adult Class, sitting facing the anxious schoolmaster, with his own
brow all furrowed by the effort to follow him and his mouth doggedly
set to succeed,while the late, low sun of a summer afternoon streams
in through the leaded window,one muses on the chance that so may the
young painter from Augsburg, now but nineteen, himself have sat upon
this very bench and leaned across this very table, in a like
determination to widen out his small store of book-learning. He could
have had little opportunity to do so in the ever-shifting,
bailiff-haunted home of his boyhood. And somewhere he certainly learned
to write quite as well as even the average gentleman of his day;
witness the notes on his drawings.
Illustration: PLATE 3
Oils. Basel Museum
Somewhere, too, and no later than these first Basel years, he
acquired the power to read and appreciate even the niceties of Latin,
though he probably could not have done more than make these out to his
own satisfaction. All his work of illustration is too original, too
spontaneous, too full of flashes of subtle personal sympathy with the
text, to have emanated from an interpreter, or been dictated by another
mind than his own. And this very Signboard may have paid for lessons
which he could not otherwise afford. For if there is any force in
circumstantial evidence it is certain that Holbein not only wrote, but
read and pondered and thought for himself in these years when he
doubtless had many more hours of leisure than he desired, from a
And the greatest pages of his autobiography, written with his brush,
will be only so many childish rebuses if we forget what astounding
pages of History and Argument were turned before him. In Augsburg he
had seen the Emperor Maximilian riding in state more than once, and
heard much talk about that Emperor's interests and schemes and fears;
and of thrones and battlefields engaged with or against these. Augsburg
was in closest ties of commerce with Venice; and the tides of many a
tremendous issue of civilisation rolled to and fro through the gates of
the Free Swabian City.
Child and lad, his was a precocious intelligence; and it had been
fed upon meat for strong men. He had heard of Alexander VI.'s colossal
infamies, and those of Cæsar Borgia as well; and of the kingdoms
ranging to this or that standard after the death of Pope and Prince. He
was nine years old then. Old enough, too, to drink in the wonderful
hero-tales of one Christopher Columbus of Genoa, whose fame was running
through the Whispering Gallery of Europe, while he himself lay dying at
Valladolidill, heartbroken, poor, disgraced,yet proudly confident
that he had demonstrated, past all denial, the truth of his own
conviction, and touched the shores of Cathay, sailing westward from
Spain. Da Gama, Vespucci, Balboa, Magellan,theirs were indeed names
and deeds to set the heart of youth leaping, between its cradle and its
Holbein was twelve when Augsburg heard that England had a young
king, whom it crowned as Henry VIII. He was setting out from his home,
such as it was, to fight his own boyish battle of Life, when the news
spread of Flodden's Field. None of these things would let such an one
as he was rest content to apprehend them as a yokel. From either the
honest dominie of the Signboard or some other, we may be sure he sought
the means to read and digest them for himself. And if he learnt some
smattering of the geography of the earth and the heavens after the
crude notions of an older day, he could have done no other, at that
time, in the most enlightened Universities. Ptolemy's Geographia
was still the text-book, and the so-called Ptolemaic Theory still the
astronomical creed of scholars. Copernicus was, indeed, a man of forty
when Holbein was painting this Signboard in 1516. But Copernicus was
still interluding the active duties of Frauenburg's highly successful
governor, tax-collector, judge, and vicar-general,to say nothing of
his brilliant essays on finance,with those studies in his watch-tower
which were to revolutionise the astronomical conceptions of twenty
centuries and wheel the Earth around the Sun instead of the Sun around
the Earth. But his system was not actually published until its author
was on his death-bed, in the year of Holbein's own death. So that these
stupendous new ideas were only the unpublished rumours and discussions
of circles like that of Froben and Erasmus, when Holbein first entered
But it is no insignificant sidelight on the history of this circle
and this period to recall that the subversive theories of
Copernicus,far as even he was from anticipating how a Kepler and a
Newton should one day shatter the Crystalline Spheres, and relegate
to the dustheap of antiquity the Epicycles, to which he still
clung,had their only generous hearing from influential churchmen of
Rome. Luther recoiled from them as the blasphemies of an arrogant
fool; and even Melanchthon urged that they should be suppressed by
the secular arm. Nor let it be forgotten that these matters were never
a far cry from those Basel printing-presses where the greatest
master-printers were themselves thorough and eager scholars; Men of
Letters, in the noblest sense of the word. And the discussion of all
these high concerns of history and letters was as much a part of the
daily life surging around their printing-presses as the roar of the
Rhine was in the air of Basel.
Illustration: PLATE 4
JACOB MEYER (ZUM HASEN)
Oils. Basel Museum
Illustration: PLATE 5
DOROTHEA MEYER (née KANNEGIESSER)
Oils. Basel Museum
As has been said, the sister of that Hans Bär for whom Holbein
painted the St. Nobody table had been the first wife, Magdalena
Bära widow with one daughter, when she married himof Jacob
Meyer, of the Hare (zum Hasen). Magdalena died in 1511, and
about 1512 Meyer zum Hasen married Dorothea Kannegiesser. And now in
1516, a memorable year to Holbein on account of this influential
patron, the young stranger was commissioned to paint the portraits of
Meyer (Plate 4) and his second wife, Dorothea (Plate 5). These oil
paintings, and the drawings for them, are now in the Basel Museum. And
no one can examine them, remembering that the painter was but nineteen,
without echoing the exclamation of a brilliant French writer: Holbein
ira beaucoup plus loin dans son art, mais déjà il est superbe. These
warm translucent browns are instinct with life and beauty.
Against the rich Renaissance architecture and the blue of the
sky-vista the massive head of Meyer and the blonde one of his young
wife,the latter so expressive of half-proud, half-shy
consciousness,stand out in wonderful vigour. From the scarlet cap on
his thickly curling brown hair to the piece of money between his thumb
and finger, the Burgomaster's picture is a virile and masterly
portrait. And just as forcefully is the charm of his pretty wife,with
all her bravery of scarlet frock, gold embroidery, head-dress and
chains,her own individual charm. They are both as much themselves in
this fine architectural setting as in their own good house of the
Hare which adjoined the rising glories of the new Renaissance Council
Hall (Rathaus) in which Meyer was to preside so often.
In 1516 he had just been elected Mayor for the first time; but after
this he had many consecutive re-elections in the alternate years which
permitted this. For no burgomaster could hold office for two years in
actual succession. Previous to being Mayor he had been an eminent
personage as master of the guilds. And both before and after his
mayoralty he was a distinguished soldier,rising from ensign to
captain in the Basel contingent which served at different times among
the Auxiliaries of France and of the Pope.
But what made this election of 1516 a civic epoch was that Meyer zum
Hasen (there were many unrelated Meyers in Basel, and two among
Holbein's patrons, who must be carefully distinguished according to the
name of the house each occupied) was the first Burgomaster ever elected
in this city from below the knightly rank. While the piece of money in
his hand, far from fulfilling the absurd purpose sometimes
suggested,that of showing his claim to wealth!marks another civic
event of this year. For it was on the 10th of January, 1516, that the
Emperor Maximilian had just issued the Charter which gave to Basel the
right to mint her own gold coins. In the painting the pose of Meyer's
right hand has been altered, and the position which Holbein originally
gave it can still be made out. The monogram and date are on the
In accordance with his invariable rule for portraits in oils,
Holbein first made a careful drawing of each head on the same scale as
the finished picture, carrying it out with great freedom but at the
same time with astonishing care and finish. So that his studies for
portraits are themselves works of art, sometimes invested with even
more spirit than the oil painting, which was never made direct from the
living model,at any rate, until ready for the finishing touches.
Drawn with a point which could give a line as bold or as almost
impalpable as he wished, and modelled to the very texture of the
surfaces, the carnations are so sufficiently indicated or rendered with
red chalk as to serve every purpose. Sometimes notes are also added.
Thus in the upper corner of the drawing for Meyer's head the artist has
noted eyebrows lighter than the hair in his microscopic yet firm
With these fine portraits, painted as if united by the same
architectural background, Holbein began a friendship of many years.
After some four centuries it is not possible to produce written records
of such ties except in occasional corroborative details. But neither is
it possible to mistake the painted records of repeated commissions.
While as the lifelong leader of the Catholic party in Basel, it was
natural that Meyer zum Hasen should have much in common with a painter
who all his life held firmly to his friendships with the most
conspicuous champions of that party.
Johann Froben was another of these; and from 1515 until Froben's
death eleven years later Holbein had more and more to do for this
printer. Occasionally, too, he drew for other Basel printers; but not
often. The eighty-two sketches on the margins of that priceless copy of
the Praise of Folly, which Basel preserves in her Museum, had
been suited to their company. Admirable, though unequal, as are their
merits, they are sketches, whose chief beauty is their happy
spontaneity. Such things are among the trifles of art, and are not to
be put into the scales at all with the finished perfection of his
serious designs for wood engraving. These were drawn on the block; and
even these cannot properly represent the drawing itself except when cut
by some such master hand as his own. Since in preparing the design for
printing the background is cut away, leaving the composition itself in
lines of relief,it follows that everything, so far as the
reproduction is concerned, must depend upon the cleanness and delicacy
of the actual cutting. A clouded eye, a fumbling touch, and the most
ethereal idea becomes its travestythe purest line debased. Hence the
necessity for taking the knife into consideration in judging such work.
This is not the place for any fraction of that hot debate which
Kugler ironically styles the great question of the sixteenth century;
the debate as to whether Holbein himself did or did not cut any of his
own blocks. Assuredly he could do so. The exquisite adjustment of every
line to its final purpose, the masterly understanding of the proper
limitations and field of every effect, all prove that he had an
unerring knowledge of the craft no less than of the art of
Illustration. But in his day that craft, like every other, had its own
guild; and it would not have been likely to tolerate any intrusion on
We know, too, that those woodcuts which most attest Holbein's genius
were engraved by that mysterious Hans Lützelburger, form-cutter,
called Franck (Hans Lützelburger, Formschnider, genannt Franck
), who still remains, after all the researches of enthusiastic admirers,
a hand and a name, and beyond thisnothing. But it is when Holbein's
designs are engraved with Lützelburger's astonishingly beautiful
cutting that we can appreciate how wonderful was the design itself. To
compare these fairy pictures with the painter's large cartoons is to
get some conception of the arc his powers described. It seems
incredible that the same hand could hang an equal majesty on the wall
of a tiny shell and on that of a king's palace, and with equal justness
of eye. Yet it is done. He will ride a donkey or an elephant with the
like mastery; but you will never find Holbein saddling the donkey with
It is not always possible to subscribe to Ruskin's flowing
judgments; but I gratefully borrow the one with which he sums up thus,
in a lecture on wood-engraving: Holbein does not give many gradations
of light, the speaker says, but not because Holbein cannot give
chiaroscuro if he chooses. He is twenty times a stronger master of it
than Rembrandt; but therefore he knows exactly when and how to use it,
and that wood-engraving is not the proper means for it. The quantity of
it which is needful for his story he will give, and that with an
And the student of Holbein's art can but feel that Ruskin has here
touched upon a characteristic of the painter's peculiar power in every
phase of it;the power to be Cæsar within himself; to say to his hand,
thus far, to say to his fancy, no farther. Those who have come to
know Holbein something more than superficially, or as a mere maker of
portraits, will smile at the dictum of some very recent authority
which pronounces him wanting in imagination; or at the hasty conclusion
that what he would not, that he could not.
He has given us, for instance, no animal paintings or landscapes
pure and simple, or, at least, none such have come down to us. And yet
what gems of landscape he has touched into his backgrounds here and
there! And what drawings of animal life he made! There are two, for
instance, in the Basel Museum which could not be surpassed; studies in
silver-point and water-colours of lambs and a bat outstretched. No
reproduction could give the exquisite texture of the bat's wings, the
wandering red veins, the almost diaphanous membrane, the furry body,a
miracle of patience and softness. It is all purest Nature. Like Topsy
one can but 'spec' it growed rather than was created.
And they are not only beautiful in themselves but full of living
meanings. Many an hour the young painter enjoyed while he made such
studies as his lambs on the pleasant slopes about Basel; the mountains
scalloping the horizon, and all the sweet fresh winds vocal with
tinkling bells or the chant of the deep-throated Rhine. Many of the
long, long thoughts of youth,those thoughts that ring like happy
bells or sweep like rushing rivers, kept him company as he laid these
delicate strokes and washes that seem to exhale the very breath of
morning across four hundred years.
In the next year after painting the portraits of Meyer and his wife
there is a sudden break in the painter's story which has always puzzled
his biographers. After such a brilliant start in Basel it is perplexing
to find the young man, instead of proceeding to join the Painters'
Guild and take the necessary citizenship, suddenly turn his back on all
these encouragements and leave the town for a long absence and remote
journeys. As will be seen when we come to consider the story of
Holbein's married life, however, I have a theory that the influence
which sent him south in such an unexpected fashion was apart from
Whether this is a good shot or no, certain it is that he did now go
far south,as distances were in those days; and that, paying his way
as he went by his brush, he went first to Lucerne, where the evidence
goes to show that he apparently thought of settling instead of at
Basel,and then on beyond it. And it seems highly probable that at
this time he pushed on over the Alps and made his way into
Italy,already the Mecca of every artist.
Here he could not now, in 1517, have hoped to see either Bramante or
Leonardo da Vinci in person. The former had died at Rome two years
before; but, without getting even as far as Pavia, Milan could show
some splendid monuments to his sojourn within her walls; characteristic
examples of that architecture of the closing fifteenth century which
Holbein loved as Bramante himself. Leonardo was now in France; but in
the refectory of the Santa Maria Monastery was his immortal, though,
alas! not imperishable, masterpieceThe Last Supper. Time had not
yet taught Leonardo, much less Holbein, the fleeting nature of mural
oil-painting; the only so-called fresco painting which the latter
ever attempted, so far as is known. But the great Supper was still
glowing in all the splendour of its original painting, and would
impress itself indelibly on an eye such as Holbein's. In more than one
cathedral, too, as he wandered in such a holiday, he would have noted
how Mantegna had made its architecture the background for his own
At any rate each of these, somehow and somewhere, set its own seal
upon the reverent heart of Holbein at about this time. Whether through
their original works or copies of them,already familiar to Augsburg
as well as Lucerne,the lad sat humbly at the feet of both Leonardo
and Mantegna. By the first, beside many a loftier lesson, he was
confirmed and strengthened in his native respect for accurate studies
of the living world around him. From the second he learned a still
deeper scorn of pretty art. Yet though he sat at their feet, it was
as no servile disciple. He would fain be taught by them; fain follow
them in all humility and frankness. But it was in order to expand his
own powers, not to surrender them; to speak his own thoughts the
better, not theirs, nor another's.
And, in any event, on such a journey Lucerne must come first. And
that he thought of making some long stay here when he returned is shown
by his having joined in this year 1517, the Guild of St. Luke, the
Painters' Guild of Lucerne, then but newly organised. Master Hans
Holbein has given one Gulden, reads the old entry. Two other items of
this visit give us glimpses of its flesh-and-blood realities, perhaps
of its unrest. The first, that he also joined a local company of
Archers, the Militia of his day, seems to bring his living footfall
very close. A resonant, manly, wholesome footfall it is, too! This
broad-shouldered young fellow is as ready to draw a good stout bow
among mountain-marksmen as a lamb among its daffodils. The second item
makes it still clearer that he had other elements as well as the
pastoral in his blood. On the 10th of December he got himself fined for
his share in a street-scrimmage, where he would seem to have decidedly
preferred the livelier to the better part of valour.
And then he would appear to have shaken the dust, or more likely the
snows, of Lucerne off his feet for the road to Italy, if not for Italy
itself. Whatever his objective, he got, at any rate, well on toward the
Pass of the St. Gothard. The scanty clues of such works as have
remained on record prove that he reached Altdorf. But there the actual
trail is altogether lost. If he spent the entire interval brush in
hand, or ifas I believehe treated himself to a bit of a holiday
beyond the Alps, can be but a guess in the dark.
By this time the New Year of 1518, then falling in March, could not
have been far off, before or behind him. And in 1518 Holbein executed
the commission which must have been the envy of every local artist.
Jacob von Hertenstein, Burgomaster of Lucerne, had now got his fine new
house ready for decoration; and it was to Holbein that he gave the
splendid commission to decorate it to his fancy,the interior as well
as the façade.
And a renowned triumph the painter made of it; a triumph such as,
perhaps, no other artist north of Italy could then have equalled. It is
idle now to dwell upon the religious subjects of one room, the genre
paintings in another, the battle scenes of a third, and so on through
those five famous rooms which were still in existence and fair
preservation so late as 1824, but are now for ever lost; to say nothing
of the painted Renaissance architecture and the historic legends which
looked like solid realities when the façade was studied. But Mizraim
is become merchandise; and all that is now left of what should have
been a treasured and priceless heirloom is but a monument to the shame
of that citizen, a banker, who could condemn such a thing to
destruction as indifferently as if it had been a cowshed, and to the
shame of the municipality which, at any cost, did not prevent it. Some
hasty sketchesdue to individual enterprise and a sense of the dignity
of Holbein's famean original drawing for one of the façade-paintings,
and a few fragments of the interior paintings, which still show
themselves, by chance, in the banker's stable wallthese are
all that remain to speak of what must have been the enthusiastic labour
of the greater part of Holbein's twenty-first year!
CHAPTER II. HOLBEIN BASILIENSIS
Holbein BasiliensisEnters the Painters' GuildBonifacius
and his portraitThe Last Supper and its JudasThe so-called
Fountain of Life at LisbonGenius for design and symbolism in
architectureVersatility, humour, fighting scenesHolbein
citizen and marriesBasel in 1519Froben's circleTremendous
and issues of the timeHolbein's religious worksThe Nativity
Adoration at FreiburgHans OberriedtThe Basel Passion in eight
panelsPassion DrawingsChrist in the tombChrist and Mary
at the door of the sepulchreRathaus wall-paintingsBirth of
eldest childThe Solothurn Madonna: its discovery and
wife and her portraitsSuggested solutions of some biographical
enigmasTitle pagesPortraits of ErasmusJourney to France,
to Lyons and AvignonPublishers and pictures of the so-called
of DeathDorothea Offenburg as Venus and Laïs
the Protestant partyHolbein decides to leave Basel for a
Meyer-Madonna of Darmstadt and Dresden, and its portraits.
And now it is 1519, and with it the true Hour of Holbein's destiny
is striking. Take away the coming seven years and you will still have
what Holbein is too often thought to be onlya great portrait-painter.
No greater ever etched the soul of a man on his mask. His previous and
his after achievements would still amply justify the honour of
centuries. But add these seven years, from 1519 to 1526, and dull
indeed must be the intelligence that cannot recognise the great Master,
without qualification and in the light of any thoughtful comparison
with the very greatest.
His Basel career may be said to begin here; his earlier work
furnishing the Prologue. On the 25th September, 1519, when he was about
two-and-twenty, he joined the Basel Guild of Painters; that same Guild
of Heaven (Zunft zum Himmel) which his brother Ambrose had
joined two years earlier and from which he seems to have passed to the
veritable guild of Heaven at about this latter date.
And hardly is the ink dry upon the record of his membership than
Holbein painted one of the most beautiful of his portraitsthat of
Bonifacius Amerbach (Plate 6). He stands beside a tree on which is hung
an inscription. Behind him is Holbein's favourite early
background,the blue of the sky, here broken by the warm brown and
green of the branch, and the faint glimpse of far-away mountains. Under
his soft cap, with a cross for badge, his intensely gleaming blue eyes
look out beneath grave brows. The lips are softly yet firmly set; the
mouth framed by the sunny beard which repeats the red-brown of his
hair. The black scholar's gown, with its trimming of black fur,
discloses his rich damask doublet and white collar.
Illustration: PLATE 6
Oils. Basel Museum
Well may the inscription assertabove the signature, the name of
the sitter and the date 14th October, 1519
Though but a painted face I am not far removed from Life; but
By truthful lines, the noble image of my Possessor.
As he accomplishes eight times three years, so faithfully in me
Is Nature's work proclaimed by the work of Art.
For here in truth is a work of Nature which is no less a work of
This is the Amerbach who began and inspired his son Basilius (so
named after Bonifacius's brother) to complete the Holbein Collection,
which the Basel Museum bought long afterwards. And such was the love of
both that they included, perhaps deliberately, much that has small
probability of claim to be Holbein's work. They would reject nothing
attributed to him; thinking a bushel of chaff well worth housing if it
might yield one genuine grain. And in view of these expressive facts,
it is hardly necessary to argue in behalf of the tradition that more
than a conventional friendship bound the two young men
together,printer's son and painter's son, musician-scholar and
scholar-painter, Churchman and Churchman; the one twenty-four, the
Bonifacius was the youngest of Johann Amerbach's three gifted sons.
As all the world knows, Johann had been also a scholar as well as a
printer, and great in both capacities. The most eminent scholars of his
day gravitated as naturally to this noble personality as they
afterwards did to that of his protégé and successor, Johann Froben. He
had educated his sons, too, to worthily continue his life-work and
maintain his devout principles. Bonifacius was the darling of more than
one heart not given to softness. He had been more the friend than the
pupil of Ulrich Zasius at the University of Freiburg, before he went to
Avignon to complete his legal studies under Alciat. Five years after
this portrait was painted he became Professor of Law in the Basel
University. I am ready to die, writes Erasmus of him, when I shall
have seen any young man purer or kinder or more sincere than this one.
Very possibly it was for Bonifacius himself that Holbein painted his
own portrait about this time (Plate 1, frontispiece). It is a worthy
mate, at all events. In the Amerbach Catalogue it was simply called
Holbein's counterfeit, in dry colour (ein conterfehung Holbein's
mit trocken farben); the frame, too, was catalogued, though the
painting was kept in a cabinet separately when the Basel Museum
acquired it with the Collection.
The vigour and finish of this portrait on vellum, done in crayons or
body-colour, make it a gem of the first water. The drawing was done in
black chalk, and the tints have been rubbed in with coloured crayons or
given with the point where lines of colour were required. The work has
the delicacy of a water-colour and the strength of oils. The broad,
soft, red hat, though so fine a bit of colour, is clearly worn as part
of a simple everyday habit. There is no suggestion of studying for
effect, or even caring at all about it. He wears his hat pulled soberly
down over his brown hair exactly as when he wore it thus about the
business of the day. The plastic modelling of the puckered brow and the
mobile mouth is beautifully indicated. The bluish tone left by the
razor is just hinted. In his drab coat with its black velvet bands,
with his shirt, on which the high lights have been applied, slightly
open at the throat, Holbein himself seems to stand before one as in
Among the early works of the Amerbach Catalogue there is one which
shows strong traces of Leonardo's and even more of Mantegna's influence
on him at this time. It is a Last Supper, painted in oils on wood. But
it was so mutilated in the iconoclastic fury of 1529, and has been so
cobbled, re-broken, re-set, and restored generally, that it can no
longer be called Holbein's work without many reservations. There is
also another Last Supper, one of a coarsely painted set on canvas,
which is attributed to him on much more doubtful grounds, to judge by
the composition and colouring. Myself I should be inclined to see the
inferior hand of Ambrose, Hans the elder, or perhaps even Sigmund
Holbein in these, if they are genuine Holbein works at all.
But there are still to be seen the traces of his own hand and mind
in the Last Supper in oils on wood. St. John's head must originally
have been very beautiful; very manly, too,dark with sudden anguish
and recoil. There is a separate head of St. John, in oils, in the same
collection, which shows how fixed was this noble originality of type in
Holbein's conception of the beloved apostle. But it is in Judas that
the patient student will find, perhaps, most of Holbein's peculiar cast
of thought, when once the initial repulsion is overcome.
By a very natural arrangement he is brought into the immediate
foreground and sits there, already isolated, already damned, in such a
torment of body and soul as haunts the spectator who has had the
courage to reconsider the dictum of authorities who call him a Jew of
frightful vulgarity. Frightful he may be; but it is a strange judgment
which can find him vulgar. Unfortunately, the painting is no longer in
a condition to justify reproduction; but such as study this
yellow-robed, emaciated, shivering, fever-consumed Judas will, I
venture to assert, find food for thought in it even under all the
injuries the work has undergone.
It is a demon-driven soul if ever there was one. He is in the very
act of springing to his feet and rushing away anywhere, anywhere out of
this Presence;no more concerned about his money-bag than about the
food he loathes. Thirty pieces of silver! If the priests have lied, if
this is in very truth the Messiah his heart still half believes Him,
will thirty pieces of silver buy his soul from the Avenger? Is there
time still to escape? What if he break the promise given when he was
over-persuaded in the market-place the other day? But did not the High
Priest himself declare that this is Beelzebub in person,this fair,
false, dear,oh! still too dear Illusion? Up! Let him be gone out of
this!from the sound of that Voice, from the sight of that Face, get
the thing over and done, donedone one way or another! If God's work,
as the priests swear, well and good. He will have earned the pity of
God Himself. If the devil's, as his heart whispers, well, too! Let him
take his price and buy himself a rope long enough to house his soul in
any Hell, rather than sit on in this one! It is all painted, or was
once; all written on that sunken cheek, that matted hair and clammy
brow; in that cavernous socket, that eye of lurid despair; on the whole
anatomy of a lost soul. The hand that did it was very young, very
immature; but it had the youth and the immaturity of a Master.
There is another and a very different work, an oil painting, in the
Royal Collection at Lisbon, signed IOANNES HOLBEIN FECIT 1519, which,
if by the younger Hans, would almost put the question as to whether the
painter knew the landscapes of Italy, beyond doubt; so southern is the
type of its background. The work, however, has been rejected by
Woltmann, on the strength of an old photograph not quite perfect. He
held the signature to be spurious, and attributed the picture to the
school of Gerard David. And he gave to the work the name by which it is
now generally styled in English works: The Fountain of Life (Der
Brunnen des Lebens). He did so from the inscription within the
rim of the well immediately in the foreground; but a literal
translation of this inscription, PVTEVS AQVARVM VIVENCIVM, is, I think,
to be preferred: The Well of Living Waters.
The majority of those competent to form a judgment in such matters
are inclined to attribute the work to Hans Holbein the Elder, who did
not die until some years later, and who made use of a very similar form
of signature. And for myself I find it hard to see how anyone familiar
with Hans the Younger could accept it as his work at any period of his
career; least of all at the date given in the signature. So that
equally whether Woltmann is right in believing the signature itself
spurious, or those are right who hold it to be the genuine signature of
Hans the Elder,a more detailed description of the composition does
not fall within the scope of this little volume. But the whole matter
is most clearly set forth, and a very beautiful reproduction in colours
given of the painting itself, in Herr Seeman's article upon it, which
will be found in the appended List of References.
* * * * *
Considerably before 1519, as has been said, Holbein had begun to
develop his special genius for Design, and to apply it to glass or
window-paintings, as well as to metal and wood-engravings. The
beautiful drawings, whether washed, or etched with the point, in chalks
or Indian ink, of which examples may be seen in almost every great
collection, private as well as public, that year after year were
created by that fertile brain and ever more masterly hand, constitute
an Art in themselves. And since so many (perhaps the greater number as
well as the greater in subject) of his paintings have perished, it is
chiefly in his drawings that the progression of his powers can be
followed, or the plane and scope of his imagination recognised at all.
There is seldom a date on them; but they will be found to date
themselves pretty accurately by certain features. In his earliest, for
instance, that defect of which mention has been made,the short thick
figures due to the energy of his rebound from Gothic attenuation is a
grave fault. There is a Virgin and Child among his washed drawings for
glass-paintings in the Basel Museum, for example, which, when you cut
it off at the knees, is one of the most charming pictures of Mother and
Child to be found in any painter's treatment of this subject. And
behind them is a gem of landscape. Yet the whole, as it stands, is
utterly marred by the Virgin's dwarfed limbs. But although Holbein
never entirely overcame this fault, he did very greatly do so, as the
His architectural settings, too, tended to greater simplicity in his
later years. Yet this is not a safe guide. Some early designs have
simple forms; some comparatively late ones, a very ornate architecture.
For the truth is that these architectural backgrounds and settings
remained, so long as his fancy had any free field for disporting
itself, an integral part of his conception. But only as inseparable
from the Symbolism, the under-tow, of his imagination. To my thinking,
at any rate, they make a gravid mistake who look for realism in these
His stately pillars and arches, his fluid forms of ornament, are not
his idea of the actual surroundings of the characters he portrays, any
more than they are your idea, or mine, of those surroundings. Is it to
be supposed that he thought the dwellings of our Lord were palaces? Or
that he could not paint a stable? Those who maintain that Holbein was a
Realist in the modern sense of the word must reconcile as best they can
the theory with the facts. But when we see the stage set with every
stately circumstance,the Babe amid the fading splendours of earthly
palaces, our Lord mocked by matter as well as man,I dare to think
that we shall do well to cease from insisting on an adobe wall, and to
study those incongruous circumstances to which the will and not the
poverty of Holbein consents. We shall, at least, no longer be dull to
the tears of things as he saw them.
But it would be no less a mistake to think of Holbein as one without
a sense of laughter as well. His drawings of open-mouthed peasants
gossiping in a summer's nooning, or dancing in some uncouth
frolic,and still more his romping children, dancing children, and the
chase of the fox running off with the goose,all of these are full of
boyish fun. Would that they could be given here without usurping the
place of more important works! But that is impossible. And so, too,
with the costume-figures of Basel, among which is the charming back
view of a citizen's wife, with all the women bent far backward in the
odd carriage that was then the latest fashion among them.
He was particularly happy, also, in his drawings of the
Landsknechte, those famous Mercenaries of Blut und Eisen; always
ready to drink a good glass, and a-many; to love a good lass after the
same liberal fashion; to troll a good song or fight a good fight; and
all with equal zest. He had not mixed with these masterful gentry for
nothing; nor they with him to wholly die. There are a number of
drawings where they are engaged in combat, too, which show that
Holbein's heart leapt to the music of sword and spear as blithely as
does Scott's or Dumas'sas blithely as did the hearts of the
Reisläufer themselves. Look at the mad rush, the hand-to-hand
grapple, in a drawing of the Basel Collection, for instance (Plate 7).
The blood-lust, the heroism, the savagery, the thrust, the oath, the
dust-choked prayer, the forgotten breathing clay under the bloodstained
foot; the very clash and din of the fray;all is told with the brush.
And yet not one unnecessary detail squandered. It is as if one watched
it from some palpitating refuge, just near enough to see the forefront
figures distinctly and to make out the interlocked hubbub and fury
where the ranks have been broken through. It would be a great day for
Art could we but chance upon some lost painting for which such a study
had served its completed purpose.
* * * * *
On the 3rd of July, 1520, Holbein fulfilled what was then the
requirement of almost every guild, and purchased his citizenship; a
citizenship to reflect unfading honour on Basel, and of which she has
ever been justly proud. And somewhere about the same time he married
Elsbeth Schmidt, a tanner's widow, who had one child, Franz.
Illustration: PLATE 7
FIGHT OF LANDSKNECHTE
Washed Drawing. Basel Museum
For the past four or five years Basel had been steadily becoming
more and more democratic. And at a period when its élite were
scholars and printers and civic officials of every origin,when the
illegitimate son of a Rotterdam doctor was the true prince, and Beatus
Rhenanus, the grandson of a butcher, was his worthy second in the
reverence of Basel,the widow and son of a reputable tanner and a
rising young artist, who had already the suffrages of the most
influential citizens, would find no doors closed to them on the score
of social disabilities. The friendship of such men as Erasmus, Froben,
Bonifacius Amerbach, and the Mayor,all conspicuous stars in the
Church party,would have ennobled a man of less genius than Holbein in
the eyes of his fellow-citizens; and rightly. But as to the exact
locality in which Holbein set up his first married roof-treethat
Bethel of sacred or saddest dreamsno documentary evidence has yet
come to light. Circumstantial evidence, however, amounts to a strong
probability in favour of the Rheinhalde of Great-Basel.
If there was an emblem peculiarly abhorrent to the Basilisk (the
Device of Basel) it was the Crescent-and-star. But nothing could better
serve to recall the rough outline of Basel in Holbein's day than this
very emblem. As the Rhine suddenly swerves from its first wild rush
westward and races away, northerly, to the German Ocean, it shapes the
hollow of the crescent in which Little-Basel (Klein-Basel)
nestled as the star; and, appropriately enough, since it was here that
the Catholic's Star of Faith rallied when overcome across the river,
where curved the crescent of Great-Basel (Gross-Basel). And the
relative proportions of the two would be fairly enough represented by
the symbols respectively used.
Great-Basel's northern face was protected by the Rhine, while the
stout city wall secured its convex curve. Of this wall the eastern horn
was St. Alban's Gate; its north-west was St. John's Gate (St. Johann
Thor); beside which stood the decaying Commandery of the Knights of
Malta, which had contributed a large sum toward the expanded wall, in
order to be included within it. And just as these spots still mark the
horns of the old crescent, the Spalen Thor shows where it had
its greatest depth, midway between the other two.
A straight line running due north-east from this Spalen-Thor would
cross the big square of the Fish-market (Fischmarktplatz) pretty
nearly as the uncovered stream of the Birsig, or Little Birs, did
before the quaint little bridge, which then united the two halves of
the Fischmarkt, was absorbed in the paving over of stream and square
before Holbein's day. This same straight line would of itself draw the
Old Bridge (Alte Brücke) with approximate exactness, the even
then ancient bridge which centred the star of Klein-Basel to its
crescent. And in the Historical Museum, where the Barefooted Friars
worshipped then, we may still see the grotesque piece of clockwork, the
wooden Stammering King (Lällenkönig), that for centuries used
hourly to roll great eyes and stick out its tongue a foot long across
the river from the Gross-Basel end of the bridge. It is often said that
this monster was set up as a public token of the hatred which the
triumphant Protestantism of the south bank felt for the stubborn
Catholicism of Klein-Basel. But the thing was a famous ancient joke
before party feeling turned it into a gibe.
Bonifacius Amerbach's home, the Emperor's Seat (Kaiserstuhl, now 23, Rheingasse), was in Klein-Basel. Johann Amerbach had bought
it, near to his beloved friends, the Carthusians. In 1520 the good old
man had slept for six years in the cloisters of the monastery; where
to-day the children of the Orphan Asylum play above his grave.
But all the conditions of Holbein's daily life would lead him to
prefer Basel proper, and to choose the quarter in which he bought a
home eight years later. This was then the western quarter of
Gross-Basel, along the river-face of which ran the high southern and
western bank of the Rhine, the Rheinhalde, now St. Johann
Vorstadt. About where the present Blumenrain ends stood the
arch, or Schwibbogen. Further on still stood the Gate of the
Cross (Kreuzthor), by the House of the Brothers of St. Anthony,
the ancient Klösterli of Basel. Before the Commandery of St.
John got themselves included within the city wall the Kreuzthor was its
western gate. The whole district of ze Crüze, so called because
its boundaries were crosses before towers replaced them, has however
become absorbed in the St. Johann Vorstadt, while the Kreuzthor has
disappeared altogether. The quarter was a favourite one with members of
the Fishers' Guild and with decent folk of small mean s.
As early as 1517 the Fishers' Company had extended itself so greatly
as to become a notable institution of the Vorstadt, including many
members from Klein-Basel also; while its military record was a proud
one. But it was in this year, while Holbein was making his visit to
Lucerne and beyond, that this guild took the more truly descriptive
name which it bears to this day, that of the Vorstadt Association (
Vorstadtgesellschaft). And to this association, which in after years
gave him a famous banquet, Holbein, we know, belonged later on, if not
Every day would take him to the Fischmarkt,the great square
humming with activity, crowded with inns, public-houses, shops, booths,
dwelling-houses,the trade mart of every nationality. The Cornmarkt
near by, now the Marktplatz, with its almost finished Rathaus,
was the centre of official civic life. When the great bell clanged on
the Rathaus, and its flag was flung out, not only every professional
soldier, but every guild and every male above fourteen, knew his
appointed place at the wall, and took it. But every day, and all day,
the Fischmarkt flung out its peaceful standards, or rallied men to this
side or to that with the tocsin of its presses,the old Amerbach
printing-house of the Settle (zum Sessel), which was Johann
Froben's home and printing-house in 1520.
Morning after morning, and year upon year, Holbein turned his back
upon St. Johannthor, and walked eastward along the Rheinhalde;the
river racing toward him on his left hand, the University rising in
front of him beyond the bridge, and the delicate Cathedral towers
beyond the University. For the Basel Minster was still the Cathedral of
the great See of Basel. Passing the wall of the Dominican Cemetery, on
which was painted the ancient Dance of Death with which his own
after-creations were so often to be confused, Holbein must many a time
have studied the famous old copy. For though the Dominican painting was
then nearly a century old, it was a copy of a still older original in
the Klein-Basel nunnery of Klingenthal, a community under
But he would pass another spotone day to be of far more living
importance to him. In 1520 it was a corn warehouse, known by the name
of ze Crüz, which belonged to Adam Petri, the printer, who had
inherited it from his uncle, the famous printer Johann Petri, by whose
ingenious improvements the art of printing was so greatly facilitated.
Two years later, in 1522, Froben bought this granary, ze Crüz, and
converted it into the book-magazine which was known all over Europe as
Froben's Book-house. And in this latter year Adam Petri, greatly to
Luther's disgust, pirated Luther's translation of the New Testament,
which had appeared three months before.
Holbein drew a superb title-page, ante-dated 1523, for this
enterprise of Petrithe New Testament now right faithfully rendered
into German,with the symbols of the Evangelists at the four corners,
the arms of Basel at the top, the device of the printer at the foot,
and the noble figures of St. Paul and St. Peter on either side; figures
which will bear comparison with Dürer's Four Temperaments of a later
date. Later still he designed another striking title-page for Thomas
Wolff's translation; and his beautiful title-pages and ornaments for
Froben, with whom his connection was not a temporary matter such as
these others, would need a volume to themselves.
Holbein's only rival, if he could be called such, in work of this
sort was the talented goldsmith, Urs Graf, who, as an exceedingly loose
fish, lived most appropriately in the Fischmarkt in his own house near
the old Birsig Bridge, when he was not in the lock-up for one or
another of his constant brawls and scandals. But to compare the best
work of both is to recognise a difference in kind as well as degree:
the essential difference between even negligent genius and the most
elaborate talent. High talent Urs Graf had unquestionably; though
stamped,I think,with the lawless caprices of his own character.
Holbein's every design has not only what Urs Graf lackedthat ordered
imagination which is Stylebut over and above all, the subtle
expression of Power.
Many a time, too, just where he would turn away from the Rhine for
the business centre of Gross-Basel, the artist would make some little
pause at the old Flower Inn (zur Blume), which gave its name
to the Blumenplatz, and is still commemorated in the greatly extended
Blumenrain of to-day. All the world now knows the famous hotel of The
Three Kings; and where it reaches nearest to the Old Bridge stood the
Blume of Holbein's time, even then the oldest of the Basel inns. This
Blume, not to be confused with later inns of the same name, shared with
its no less famous contemporary,The Stork, in the Fischmarkt,the
special patronage of the chief printers. Basilius Amerbach, for
instance, the brother of Holbein's friend Bonifacius, lived at the
Blume; and often the painter must have turned in for a friendly glass
with him and a chat about Bonifacius, away at his law studies in
As for the Stork, its very rooms were named in remembrance of the
envoys and merchant traders who flocked to it on all great occasions.
There was a Cologne Room, for instance, and a Venetian Room, among
many others. The men of Venice, indeed, had a particular affection for
it. Here Holbein met with all nationalities, and learned much of the
great centres of other countries. Here came all the Basel magnates and
printers. And here, a few years later on, came that bizarre personage
who was for a very brief time Basel's town physician, the Paracelsus
Theophrastus Bombastus to whom we owe our word bombastic.
Holbein was on a visit to England during the latter's short tenure of
office, when the combined scholarship and poverty of Oporinus made him
the hack of Paracelsus and the victim of many a petty tyranny. At that
time Oporinus,the son of that Hans Herbster, painter, whose portrait
is now attributed to Ambrose Holbein,was glad to place his remarkable
knowledge of Greek at Froben's service. He was not yet a printer, as
later when Holbein drew a clever device for him. And neither he nor the
painter could know that one day the daughter of Bonifacius Amerbach
should marry him out of sheer pity for his unhappy old age,somewhat
as he himself, when but a lad of twenty, married an aged Xantippe from
But in 1520, when Holbein was just married, Oporinus was still a
student and Bonifacius unmarried. Erasmus, too, did not permanently
take up his home with Froben until the following year, and was now at
Louvain. Yet what a true university was that little house zum Sessel
(now 3, Todtengässlein, the little lane where the old post-office
stood) to an intelligence such as Holbein's! And what a circle was that
of Froben's staff! From Froben himself, above whom Erasmus alone could
tower in scholarship, down through every member to the youngest, and
from such men as Gerard Lystrius on the one hand and the literally
Beatus Rhenanus on the other, what things were not to be learned!
And what discussions those were that drew each man to give of his
best in the common talk! Venice sent news of the unspeakable Turk,
whom she had such good cause to watch and dread. For fifty years his
name had ceased to blanch the cheek of other nations; but now it was
said, and said truly, that the dying Selim, the Grim, had forged a
thunderbolt which Suleyman II. would not be slow to hurl. No man could
know the worst or dared predict the end, as to that Yellow Terror of
Holbein's time. And closer still, to keen eyes, were the threats of the
coming Peasant Terror. Wurtemberg had battened down the flames, it is
true; but the deck of Europe was hot under foot with the passions that
were soon to make the Turks' atrocities seem gentle in comparison.
The death of Maximilian and the election of Charles V. were a year
old now. But none knew better than the Basel printers how much the
League of Swabia and the Swiss Confederation had weighed in the close
contest of claims between those three strangely youthful competitors
for the Emperor's crown;Charles, but nineteen; Francis I.,
one-and-twenty; and Henry VIII., not twenty-five. Basel also knew that
Charles had only bought his triumph by swearing to summon the Diet of
Worms. All the more, therefore, was she intensely alive to the possible
issues of the Arabian-Nights-Entertainment which had but just concluded
on the dreary Calais flats when Holbein became one of Basel's citizens.
Erasmus had come back full of it. Marco Polo's best wonders made but a
dingy show beside the Field of the Cloth of Gold, where in this June
the two defeated candidates for imperial honours had kissed each other
midway between the ruined moat of Guisnes and the rased battlements of
Then, on top of this, came the rumours of the English King's
undertaking to answer Luther's most formidable attack on Rome. It was
in 1520, the year after his great disputation with Eck at Leipzig, that
Luther published his cataclysmic addresses: To the Christian Nobles of
Germany and On the Babylonian Captivity,the latter of which itself
contains the whole Protestant Reformation in embryo. Would to God,
exclaimed Erasmus of it, that he had followed my counsel and abstained
from odious and seditious proceedings! Bishop Tunstall, then in Worms,
had also written of it:I pray God keep that book out of England!
But before the year was out that book had reached England, and Henry
VIII. had sworn to annihilate its arguments and to triumphantly defend
the dogmas of Rome. The eagerly-awaited Defence did not get printed,
and would remain in Pope Leo's hands for a year yet. But Basel knew,
through More and Erasmus,whose canny smile probably discounted its
critical quality,pretty much its line of defence. Nor was Froben's
circle one whit more surprised than its royal author when its immediate
reward was that formal style and titleDefender of the Faith,to which a few years more were to lend so different a significance.
By this latter date Ulrich von Hutten had fled to Basel, only to
find that his violent heresies had completely estranged Erasmus, and
closed Froben's door, as well as all other Roman Catholic doors,
against him for ever. He lodged, therefore, at the Blume until the
Basel Council requested him to leave the town, a little before his
death, in 1523. But in 1520 Hutten was still at Sickingen's fortress,
digging with fierce ardour the impassable gulf between him and the band
of friends and Churchmen among whom Holbein ever ranged himself.
* * * * *
Among the five lost works which Patin says Holbein painted, there
was a Nativity and an Adoration of the Kings. It is impossible now
to say what resemblances, if any, existed between these and the same
subjects, executed not much later, which are now in the University
Chapel, Freiburg Minster. These latter are the only known works of
Holbein that still hang in a sacred edifice. They were evidently
designed to fold in upon a central altar-piece with an arched top, thus
making, when open, the usual triptych; but the central painting has
vanished. This large work was a gift to the Carthusian monastery in
Klein-Basel; and the arms of the donor, Hans Oberriedt, are displayed
below the Nativity, as well as the portraits of himself and his six
sons. Below the corresponding right wing, the Adoration, are the arms
of his wife and her portrait, with her four daughters.
In both wings what I can only describe as the atmosphere of
Infancy,and a touching atmosphere it is toois strengthened by
keeping all the figures small and heightening this suggestion by
contrast with a grandiose architecture. In both, too, the sacred scenes
reveal themselves like visions unseen by the Oberriedt family, who face
outward toward the altar and are supposed to be lighted by the actual
lights of the church. The whole work must once have been a glorious
creation, with its rich colours, its beautiful architectural forms, and
its mingling of purest imagination with realism. What would one not
give to see the lost work these wings covered?
Illustration: PLATE 8
Oils. University Chapel, Freiburg Cathedral
In the left wing, the Nativity (Plate 8), Holbein has remarkably
anticipated the lighting of Correggio's famous masterpiece, not
finished until years after this must have been painted, by the
conditions of Oberriedt's history and Basel's as well. The Light that
is to light the world lights up the scene with an exquisite enchanting
softness,yet so brilliantly that the very lights of heaven seem
dimmed in comparison. The moon, in Holbein's deliberate audacity, seems
but a disc as she bows her face, too, in worship. Shining by some
compulsion of purest Nature, the divine radiance glows on the ecstatic
Mother; and away above and beyond herHow far that little candle
shines, and shines, and shines again amid the shadows! It illumines
the beautiful face of the Virgin, touches the reverent awe of St.
Joseph, plays over marble arch and pillar, discovers the wondering
shepherd peering from behind the pillar on the left, and irradiates the
angel in the distance, hastening to carry the glad tidings. The happy
cherubs behind the Child rejoice in it; and as they spring forward one
notices how Holbein has boldly discarded the conventional, and attached
their pinions as if these were a natural development of the arm instead
of a separate member.
The same union of unfettered fancy symbolism and realism displays
itself throughout the right wing,where the Virgin is enthroned in
front of crumbling palaces. The sun's rays form a great star, of such
dazzling light that one of the attendants shades his eyes to look
upward, and an old man with a noble head, wearing an ermine cape,
presents his offering as the chief of the three kings; while a Moorish
sovereign, dressed in white, makes a splendid figure as he waits to
kneel with his gift, and his greyhound stands beside him. The colouring
of both paintings must have had an extraordinary beauty when the
painter laid down his brush.
To carp at such conceptions because their architecture is as
imaginative and as deeply symbolical as the action, is to demand that
Holbein shall be someone else. These pictures, beyond the portraits
below them, are the farthest possible from aiming at what we demand of
Realism, though their own realism is astonishing. Holbein all too
seldom sounds them, but when he does choose to stir only a joyous
elation in the heart he rings a peal of silver bells. Here all is glad
thanksgiving. The Divine has come into a sick and sorry world; and,
behold, all is changed! Nothing sordid, nothing shabby, consists with
the meaning of this miracle. Therefore it is not here. All is
transformed; all is a New Jerusalemsplendour, peace, ineffable and
With the dominance of the anti-Catholic party, which unseated Meyer
zum Hasen in 1521, his friend Oberriedt also fell into trouble. And
soon after Erasmus and Bonifacius Amerbach,disgusted with the
iconoclast fanaticism of 1528 and 1529,took refuge in Catholic
Freiburg-in-the-Breisgau, Oberriedt also left Basel for that city. He
took these wings with him to save them from the destruction which
probably overtook the central work. The latter was, perhaps, too large
to conceal or get away. During the Thirty Years' War they were again
removed, and safeguarded at Schaffhausen. And so great was their fame
that they were twice expressly commanded to be brought before a
sovereign; once to Munich, to be seen by Maximilian of Bavaria; and
again to Ratisbon for the Emperor Ferdinand III. In 1798 they were
looted by the French, and were only restored to Freiburg in 1808.
Illustration: PLATE 9
Eight-panelled Altar-piece Oils. Basel Museum
II The Kiss of Judas
III Before Pontius Pilate
IV The Scourging
V The Mocking
VI The Way to Calvary
VII It is finished
VIII The Entombment
Another great religious picture, once no less renowned than
Oberriedt's altar-paintings, has suffered a worse fate. This is the
eight-panelled altar-piece of the Passion, now in the Basel Museum
(Plate 9). So far back as is known it was preserved, probably after
being hidden from the fury that attacked all church pictures, in the
Rathaus. Maximilian I., of Bavaria, the zealous collector of Dürer's
works, offered almost any price for this altar-piece by Dürer's great
contemporary. But Basel, unlike Nüremberg, was not to be bribed; and
the world-famous painting remained to draw art-lovers from every
country in Europe. Nor did the most competent judges fail to envy Basel
her jewel, and to eulogise its perfections. Painters such as Sandrart,
looking at it after it had survived a hundred and fifty years of
vicissitude, could exclaim: It is a work in which the utmost that our
art is capable of may be found; yielding the palm to none, whether of
Germany or Italy, and justly wearing the laurel-wreath among the works
of former times.
Alas! this laurel, too, has been filched from Holbein's fame. In
1771 the altar-piece was consigned to the collection where it now is;
and it was then decided to gild the gold and paint the lily. The work
was subjected to one of those crude restorations which respect
nothing save the frame. And no monarch will ever again compete for its
possession. Red is over red and blue over blue, doubtless; but in place
of Holbein's rich harmony a jangle of gaudy conflicting colours now
sets one's teeth on edge. So that only in a photograph can one even
enjoy the compositionall that is left of the Master.
But here it can be seen with what art the painter has so combined
eight separate and distinct pictures, each a gem, into one, by such a
distribution and balance that the whole is as integral as a pearl. The
scene on the Mount of Olives, which a great critic once pronounced
worthy to compare with Correggio's work, is only to be surpassed by the
Entombment. And in every scenewhat freedom, action, verve! From the
first to the last all passes with the swift step of Calamity, yet all
with noble dignity.
The Basel Museum possesses also a set of ten washed drawings in
Indian ink,scenes of the Passion designed for glass-painting,which
must be conned and conned again before one can know Holbein at all in
his deepest moods. They are a great Testament, though they seem
unbearably harsh at a superficial glance. But put aside your own ideas
and humbly study the ideas of Holbein,sure that they must be well
worth the reverence of yours or mine,and little by little you will be
made free of that Underworld where Holbein's true self has its home;
you will pierce its gloom and find its clue and understand its tongue.
It is a small matter whether you and I find ourselves in sympathy with
that world, or can never be acclimatised. The great matter, the only
matter, is to understand it; to see in its skeletons something more
than lively bones, in its graves something besides Horror.
Without mastering the logical sequence of these ten drawings,where
scene by scene the Divine recedes before our eyes, and the Son of Man
assumes more and more the whole burden of Sin and Death,it is
inevitable that the life-size painting of Christ in the Grave, also in
the Basel Museum (Plate 10), should seem just a ghastly and
unpardonable piece of realism. Realism of the most ghastly
truthfulness, as to a corpse in the grave, it certainly is. But
although it may be questioned whether such a picture should ever be
painted, no one who looks through the form to the thought that shapes
it would pronounce even this awful utterance unpardonable.
There have been those who could see in this dead Christ,lying
rigid in a green sarcophagus that throws over the waxen flesh the
ghastly threat of that decay which would follow if no miracle
intervened,there have been those, I say, who could see in it only
superb technique. And others see only the negation of all idealism, if
not of all faith.
Illustration: PLATE 10
CHRIST IN THE GRAVE
Oils. Basel Museum
Yet put this painting,the acme of technical beauty as well as of
ruthless realism,at the close of the ten Passion drawings, and I
venture to believe that the one coherent conception that runs through
them all will legitimately find its conclusion here.
Here He lies that surrendered Himself to the punishment of Sin and
the penalty of Deathfor all men and all time. His pale lips are set
with the superhuman agony of the cry with which He paid the uttermost
farthing of that bond. Man has died for man, martyrs for faith; here
God has died unto Himself, for us. There has been no playing at death.
All the pitiless terrors of the grave are here, with Him who for love
of us has chosen to know Mortality like at all points with mortal
men. What He bore for us, shall we shrink from so much as realising?
The great eyes are fixed in a look whose penetrating, almost liquid
sweetness not even the rigor of the final anguish could obliterate.
Divine devotion,devotion more than mortal,still lingers in those
sockets. The heart may well dilate before this sight; the soul fall on
its knees. By each of those bloodstained steps, by the sting of this
death, we have been paid for. Here, here only,as Holbein saw it,is
the leverage the heathen philosopher vainly sighed for to move the
world; God's leverage, Infinite Love.
This is anything but a theological tangent. A great artist has
bequeathed us his beliefs,drawn and painted in many works, with every
patient, virile, expressive power at his command. There has been enough
and to spare of shrieks or scoffs. A little humility and a little study
is in place, too. For the rest, let us not forget that this large
painting was made for some altar; and that many a weeping penitent,
many a devout heart, has been pierced with its message. On the edge of
the stone coffin, which is tinted a warm green within, and lit by some
opening at the foot, is the inscription in gold letters: JESUS
NAZARENUS REX JUDÆORUM. The stigmata are painted with unsparing truth.
The work is dated 1521.
There is in the Hampton Court Gallery a little painting which has
only comparatively recently been recognised as Holbein's, but which
forms the beautiful and fitting close of this set of religious
pictures. As is the case with so many of his works, the critics are not
unanimous upon it. But the authorities who have no doubts as to its
being a genuine Holbein of this period are so weighty that I need not
argue the point in support of my own convictions.
In the Hampton Court Catalogue it is styled Mary Magdalen at our
Lord's Sepulchre, but I prefer to call it the Risen Christ (Plate 11).
It must once have been supremely beautiful; for even now its ideal
loveliness shines through all the evil fortunes which have once again
defaced the handiwork of Holbein. The type of Christ, and indeed the
work throughout, bears a marked resemblance to the eight-panelled Basel
The painter has chosen the moment recorded in the twentieth chapter
of St. John. In that early dawn, when it was yet dark, Mary has
brought spikenard in a marble cup, if not to anoint the sacred Dead at
least to pour it on the threshold of the sealed tomb, with tears and
prayers. She has fled to tell St. John and St. Peter of the sacrilege
of the open tomb,has followed them back, still mechanically clasping
her useless spikenard,has seen them go in where her trembling knees
refused to follow, and then go homeward, as we can see them in the
distance, arguing the almost incredible fact.
Poor Mary has had no heart for discussion. She has stayed weeping by
the empty grave until two pitying angels have appeared to recall her
from despair, and she has turned herself back,too frightened to
stay for comfort. And then she has seen near her a Face, a Form, she
was too dazed to recognise until the unforgettable Voice has thrilled
through her, and she has flung herself forward with the old,
instinctive cry, Master! to touch, to clasp that Hand, so dear, so
familiar, so all-protecting, and find it a reality.
It is this tremendous moment that Holbein has seized. And with what
exquisite feeling for every detail of the scene, every great emotion!
Had the painting been preserved, as it deserved to be, surely it too
could claim a part of that laurel wreath which Sandrart averred could
not be torn from the Basel altar-piece by any rival, whether Italian or
Illustration: Plate 11
THE RISEN CHRIST
Oils. Hampton Court Gallery
The misty landscape, with the crosses of Golgotha and the eastern
hills catching the first brightness of the new Day dawning over
mortality; the broken clouds of night, scattered like the conquered
horrors of the grave, and the illuminated tomb where Hope and Faith
henceforth ask us why we weep; the hurrying agitation of St. Peter and
the trusting serenity of St. John, expressed in every gesture; the
dusky trees; Mary's quivering doubt and rapture, touched with some new
awe; and the simple majesty with which our Lord stays that unconscious
innocent presumption, Touch me not.
What forbidding tenderness in that Face lighted by the grave He has
passed through! What a subtle yet eloquent suggestion of the eternal
difference, henceforth, between Love and love is in these mortal
lineaments that have evermore resumed their divinity! No face, no type,
no art, can ever realise Christ; yet when this little painting was
first added to the great roll of Holbein Basiliensis, it must
have gone as near to realising its subject as the colours of earth can
But every man, happily for himself, has a material as well as an
immaterial world with which he must be concerned. To transpose
Bagehot's profound little saying,Each man dines in a room apart, but
we all go down to dinner together. And though Holbein knew the pinch of
narrow means, he had no lack of good cheer as well as austere food in
On March 12th, 1521, the Great Council held its first meeting in the
new Rathaus; and Meyer zum Hasen, who presided over it as Burgomaster,
entrusted to his protégé the enviable task of decorating the Council
Chamber. Fifty-six years after Holbein's work was completed these
wall-paintings were described as representations of the noblest
subjectsdone by the German Apelles. By this title the painter was
everywhere recognised throughout the greater part of his lifetime.
In all, there would seem to have been six large pictures or set
pieces; but two were not done until years later. One wall being too
broken up by windows to be suitable, there remained three,of which
the back wall adjoining Meyer's house was not touched at this time.
Ostensibly the reason was want of funds; but as a matter of fact the
Protestant party (to anticipate this name), which grew strong enough to
unseat Meyer before the year was out, was at this time indifferent to
art when not positively inimical to it.
Whether treating a façade or an interior it was Holbein's custom to
make a flat wall-space assume the most solid-looking forms of
Renaissance architecture. Iselin once said of a façade of Holbein's,
that there was a dog painted on it so naturally that the dogs in the
street would run up and bark at it. And so astounding was the realism
with which he threw out balconies, and added windows, cornices, and
statues, and the richest carvings, pillars, arches, and vistas of every
sort, that no eye could credit them with illusion. Horses neighed in
the courtyards, flowers bloomed in the gardens, dogs leaped beside
master or mistress, and children played in the spacious balconies, or
moved to and fro between the splendid marble pillars and the distant
wall. To study the copies that remain of such works is to be astounded
by their feats of perspective.
Inside would be kindred illusions. Large pictures would seem to be
actually taking place without, and beheld through beautifully carved
archways or windows; while the apparent walls would have niches filled
with superb marble statues and the ceiling be supported by pillars,
behind which people walked and talked or leaned out to watch the chief
And so it was with the Council Chamber. But nothing now remains of
these works except fragments and a few drawings for the principal
features. So far as can be judged, each wall had two large scenes; the
four pictures of this period being chosen from the heroic legends of
the Gesta Romanorum; the two painted later, from the Old
But while these large works were going forward Holbein was busy with
many others; private commissions for Froben, occasionally for other
printers, and for altar-pieces or portraits. All through his life his
industry and accomplishment left him small time for leisure or the
dissipations of leisure. Nor is there any year of his life when his
work does not attest a clear eye and a firm hand. These things are
their own certificate of conduct; at any rate, of worldly conduct.
* * * * *
In 1522 occurred two important events in his life. His first child,
the son he called Philip, was born; and he painted an altar-piece which
is in some respects the most beautiful of his extant works. The
latternow in the Solothurn Museum, and therefore called the
Solothurn Madonna (Plate 12)has had one of the most extraordinary
histories to be found in the records of art.
Illustration: PLATE 12
THE SOLOTHURN, OR ZETTER'SCHE, MADONNA
Oils. Solothurn Museum
The background of this picture,a massive arch of grey sandstone
supported by iron stanchions,was evidently designed to suit the
surrounding architecture of some grey-walled ancient structure. On a
daïs covered with a green carpet, patterned in white and red and
emblazoned with the arms of the donor and his wife, sits the lovely
Madonna with the Child held freely yet firmly in two of the most
exquisite hands which even Holbein ever painted. Her dress is a rich
rose-red; her symbolical mantle of universal Motherhood, or Grace, is
a most beautiful ultramarine, loaded in the shadows and like a sapphire
in its lights. The flowing gold of her hair shimmers under its filmy
veil, and the jewels in her gold crown flash below the great white
pearls that tip its points. Where the sky-background approaches Mother
and Child, its azure tone is lost in a pure effulgence of light; as if
the very ether were suffused with the sense of the Divine.
The Child is drawn and painted superbly. The carnations are
exquisite; the gravity of infancy is not exaggerated, yet fittingly
enforces the gesture of benediction. The left hand is turned outward in
a movement so peculiar to happy, vigorous babyhood that it is a marvel
of observation and nature. The little foot is admirably foreshortened,
and the wrinkled sole a bit of inimitable painting. But perhaps most
wonderful of all is the art with which, amid so many splendid details,
the Child is the centre of interest as well as of the picture. How it
is so, is Holbein's own secret.
To right and left of the Virgin stand two fine types of spiritual
and temporal authority. Behind and at her right, almost hidden by the
amplitude of her mantle, kneels a poor wretch who is introduced here by
some necessity of the commission itself, but is skilfully prevented
from obtruding his needs on the serene beauty of the scene. Dropping
gold into his alms-bowl with a hand effectively contrasted with his
brown thumb, stands the sinner's saintthe good Bishop of Tours;
while some other condition of the work has embroidered St. Martin's red
mitre with the figure of St. Nicholas. There is one other striking
circumstance about St. Martin; and that is that, although he is in the
Virgin's presence, he wears the violet chasuble of an Intercessor. The
chasuble is lined with red, and it and the rich vestments, on which
scenes of the Passion are displayed, are the patient verisimilitude of
ancient vestments. In St. Martin's gloved left hand is his crozier and
the right glove, which he has drawn off to bestow his alms.
Opposite to him stands the patron-saint of Solothurn,St. Ursus, a
hero of the Theban legend,dressed from head to foot in a suit of
magnificently painted armour. His left hand grasps his sword-hilt; his
right supports the great red flag with its white cross. Nor is that
flag of the year 1522 the least interesting detail of this work. With
the crimson reflections of the flag streaking the cold gleams of his
glittering armour, his stern dark face and the white plumes tossing to
his shoulder, St. Ursus is a figure that may well leave historical
accuracy to pedants. Below his foot are the initials H.H., and the
date, 1522; as if cut into the stone.
This work was commissioned by Hans Gerster, for many years Town
Archivist of Basel, in which capacity he had to convey important state
papers to other councils with which that of Basel had negotiations.
From this it came about that from the year when Basel entered the Swiss
Confederation, in 1501, Gerster was almost as much at home in the City
of Ambassadors as in his own, and the Dean or Probst of the
Solothurn Cathedralthe Cathedral of St. Ursus and St.
Victorbecame not only his spiritual director, but one of his most
intimate friends. Many circumstances which cannot be given here make it
pretty evident that in 1522 Gerster, probably under the advice of the
Probst, the Coadjutor Nicholas von Diesbach, made this picture an
expiatory offering for some secret sin of grave proportions. There
are hints that point to treachery to the Basel troops, in the Imperial
interests, sympathy with which finally cost him, as well as his friend
Meyer zum Hasen, his official position. Gerster himself was not a
native of Basel, although his wife, Barbara Guldenknopf, was.
Be this as it may, it is apparently in direct connection with this
confessed sin that the sinner's saint, St. Martin of Tours, is chosen
as Intercessor for Gerster, wearing the prescribed chasuble for this
office. And it seems likely that the addition to his mitre of the
figure of St. Nicholas was Gerster's wish, in order to specially
associate the name-saint of his friendNicholas von Diesbachwith
this intercession. It is assumed by those who have patiently unearthed
these details of circumstantial evidence, that the beggar is introduced
to mark the identity of the boundlessly charitable Bishop of Tours. But
I venture to suggest still another reason: this is, that in the
uplifted, pleading face of the mendicant, whose expression of appeal
and humility is a striking bit of realism in these ideal surroundings,
we may have the actual portrait of the donor, Hans Gerster himself.
That this should be so would be in strict accord with the methods of
the period. There is a striking parallel which will occur to all who
are familiar with the St. Elizabeth in the St. Sebastian altar-piece at
Munich. Here the undoubted portrait of Hans Holbein the elder is seen
as the beggar in the background.
It is, as has been said, a marvellous story by which this glorious
painting,in which the introduction of the patron-saint of Solothurn
proves that it was created for one of her own altars,was completely
lost to her, and to the very histories of Art, and then returned to the
city for which it was originally destined; all by a chain of seemingly
unrelated accidents. But only the skeleton of that story can be given
In all probability this Madonna was executed for the altar of the
ancient Lady Chapel of the Solothurn Cathedral. A hundred and
twenty-six years after it was painted, this chapel was pulled down, to
be replaced by a totally different style of architecture; and as the
picture was then smoke-stained and old-fashioned it would in all
likelihood drop into some lumber-room. At all events, it must have
become the property of the Cathedral choirmaster,one Hartmann,after
another five-and-thirty years. For at this time he built, and soon
after endowed, the little village church of Allerheiligen, on the
outskirts of the industrial town of Grenchen, which lies at the
southern foot of the Jura.
Facilis descensus! Another turn of the centuries' wheel and
the gift of this chapel's founder was once again thought unworthy of
the altar to which it had been presented. When Herr Zetter of Solothurn
first saw it in the queer little Allerheiligen chapel, it hung high up
on the choir wall; blackened, worm-eaten, without a frame, suspended by
a string passed through two holes which had been bored through the
painted panel itself. Yet his acute eye was greatly interested by it.
And when, during an official visit in 1864, he heard that the chapel
was undergoing a drastic renovation, he was concerned for the fate of
the discoloured old painting. At first it could not be discovered at
all. Finally he found it, face downward, spotted all over with
whitewash, under the rough boards that served for the workmen's
platform. A few hours later and it, too, would have been irrevocably
gone; carted away with the old rubbish!
He examined it, made out the signature, knew that this might mean
either any one of a number of painters who used it, or a clumsy copy or
forgery, yet had the courage of his conviction that it was Holbein's
genuine work. He bought it of the responsible authority, who was glad
to be rid of four despised paintings, for the cost of all the new
decorations. He had expert opinion, which utterly discouraged his
belief; but stuck to it, took the risks of having it three long years
(so rotten was its whole condition) under repairs which might at any
moment collapse with it, yet leave their tremendous expenses behind to
be settled just the same; and finally found himself the possessor of a
perfectly restored chef-d'oeuvre of Holbein's brush, which, from the
first, Herr Zetter devoted to the Museum (now a fine new one) of
To-day this work, which some forty years ago no one dreamed had ever
existed, smiles in all the beauty of its first painting; a monument to
the insight and generous enthusiasm of the gentleman whose name is
rightly connected with its own in its official titleThe
Zetter-Madonna of Solothurn. And it smiles with Holbein's own
undebased handiwork throughout. Pace Woltmann's blunder,its
network of fine cracks, even over the Virgin's face, attests that it
has suffered no over-painting. The work has been mounted on a solid
back, the greatest fissures and the holes filled up to match their
surroundings, the stains and defacements of neglect cleared away, and
the triumph is complete. It might well be the swan song of a veteran
artist at such work. Whatever the mistakes of Eigener's career, the
restoration of the Solothurn Madonna was a flawless achievement for
himself and his associates.
This work, too, is the most precious of all that have come down to
us of Holbein's imaginative compositions, from the fact that his
first-born, Philip, who was born about 1522, was the model for the
Child, and that a portrait of Elsbeth, his wife, served as a study for
the Virgin. This portrait is an unnamed and unsigned drawing in
silver-point and Indian ink, heightened with touches of red chalk, now
in the Louvre Collection. (Plate 13.)
Illustration: PLATE 13
UNNAMED PORTRAIT-STUDY: NOT CATALOGUED AS HOLBEIN'S
Silver-point and Indian-ink. Louvre Collection
Believed by the writer to be Holbein's drawing of
his wife before her first marriage, and the model
for the Solothurn Madonna
That this is a portrait of Holbein's wife any careful comparison
with her portrait at Basel must establish. Feature for feature,
allowing for the changes of sufficient years, the two faces are one and
the same. The very line of the shoulder, setting of the head, and even
the outline of the fashion in which the low dress is cut, is alike in
both. And equally unmistakable is the relation between this Louvre
drawing and the Madonna of Solothurn.
Yet I am unable to accept Woltmann's theory that the drawing was
made in 1522 for the Virgin. He assumes that the lettering which
borders the bodice in this drawingALS. IN. ERN. ALS. IN....and the
braids in which the hair is worn are simply some fancy dress. But
surely if ever hair bore the stamp of unstudied, even ugly custom, it
does so here. Then, too, Woltmann himself, as are all who adopt this
explanation, is unable to reconcile the oldest age which can be
assigned to this sitter with the youngest that can be assumed for the
Basel painting of 1529 upon a hypothesis of only seven years' interval.
Temperament and trouble can do much in seven years; but not so much as
this. I say temperament advisedly; because all the evidence of
Holbein's life substantiates the assertion of Van Mander, who had it
from Holbein's own circle of contemporaries,that the painter's life
was made wretched by her violent temper. We shall find him far from
blameless in later years; but though it may not excuse him, his unhappy
home must largely explain his alienation.
Yet that it can explain such an alteration as that between the
Louvre drawing and the Basel portrait I do not believe. Nor could I
persuade myself either that any married woman of the sixteenth century
wore her hair in that most exclusive and invariable of Teuton
symbolsmaiden plaits;or that any husband ever thought it
necessary to advertise upon a picture of his wife that he held her in
Myself, I must believe, then, that this portrait was made years
before 1522; probably in the young painter's first months in Basel, in
1515; and thus some fourteen years before the Basel group of 1529 was
painted. It may well have been that some serious misunderstanding
between them was at the bottom of that otherwise inexplicable departure
in 1517, and the two years' absence in Lucerne and still more southern
cities. Of course this is mere guesswork; so is every hypothesis until
it is proved. But all the simple commonplaces of first love,
estrangement, separation, and a renewed betrothal after Elsbeth's early
widowhood with one child, could easily have run a natural course
between 1515 and their marriage, somewhere about 1520.
As for the inscription,it is a detail that Woltmann thinks
represents a repetition of the one phrase, and that I imagine to have
suggested what for some reason Holbein did not wish to proclaim:In
all honour. [In all love.] But nothing can shake my conviction that in
it we hear the faint far-off echoes from some belfry in Holbein's own
city of Îs. The realities of that chime are buried,whether well or
ill,four hundred years deep in the seas that roll over that submerged
world of his youth and passion. But living emotion, we may be sure,
went to the writing and the treasuring of this pledge to Elsbeth or
himself; a pledge redeemed when she became his wife.
Thus for the altar-piece of 1522 there would be this portrait of
Elsbeth in her girlhood ready to his hand. But even so, see how he has
idealised it, made a new creature of it, all compact of exquisite
ideals! He has eliminated the subtle sensuousness which has its own
allure in the drawing. Every trait is refined, purified, vivified,
raised to another plane of character. Genius has put the inferior
elements into its retort, and transmuted them to some heavenly metal
far enough from Holbein's home-life.
Throughout all these years, as has been said, he was busy for the
printers also. In 1522 he drew the noble title-page for Petri's edition
of Luther's New Testament, with the figures of St. Peter and St. Paul
at either side, of which mention has been made. And in Thomas Wolff's
edition of 1523 there is a series of his designs. His alphabets,
borders, illustrations of all sorts, continued to enrich the Basel
press from this date, and were often borrowed by printers in other
cities. In 1523 there came to Basel that masterly wood-cutter who has
been already referred to,Hans Lützelburger. And from this time on,
therefore, Holbein's designs may be seen in their true beauty.
He had painted, besides portraits of Froben and others, at least
three portraits of Erasmus by 1524. For in June of this year the latter
writes to his friend Pirkheimer, at Nürnberg, to say that he has sent
two of these portraits by the most accomplished painter to England;
while the artist himself, he adds, has conveyed still a third to
The smaller of the two sent to England, two-thirds the size of life,
is probably the one now in the Louvre (Plate 14). It is a masterpiece
of penetration and technique. Erasmus is here seen in the most
unaffected simplicity of dress and pose; in profile against a
dark-green tapestry patterned with light green, and red and white
flowers. The usual scholar's cap covers his grey hair. The blue-grey
eyes are glancing down at his writing. Studies for the marvellously
painted hands are among the Louvre drawings. The very Self of the
manthe lean, strong, thinking countenance,the elusive smile,
shrewd, ironical, yet kindly, stealing out on his lips,is alive here
by some necromancy of art.
Illustration: PLATE 14
Oils. The Louvre
The portrait now in the Basel Museum, in oils on paper, afterwards
fastened to the panel, is in all likelihood that third portrait which
Erasmus told Pirkheimer the painter himself had taken to France. So
that Holbein must have painted it for, and carried it to, Bonifacius
Amerbach, who was then, in 1524, finishing a renewed course of study at
Avignon. Probably it was during this visit to France, too, that he made
the spirited sketches of monuments at Bourges. In that case it would
seem that he struck across by way of Dijon to the Cathedral City, in
connection with some matter not now to be discovered, and from there
took the great highway to Avignon by way of Lyons; carrying with him
the gift of his sketches from the monuments of Duke Jehan of Berri and
his wife. These were treasured in Amerbach's collection.
Whatever the reason that sent him abroad on this journey,whether
unhappiness at home or the troubled state of public affairs during the
Peasants' War of 1524 and 1525,or whether he simply had business in
France which delayed him there for a year or twoat all events, all
records fail as to his wanderings or work in this long interval. And
many circumstances go to show that it was at this time that he entered
upon the immortal work which was published at Lyons, by the Trechsel
Brothers, many years later;those Images of Death which have
borrowed the old name in popular parlance, and are generally called
Holbein's Dance of Death.
Just why the Trechsels did not issue the publication until 1538 it
is impossible to say. As one of the largest Catholic publishing-houses
of France, they would be governed by circumstances entirely outside of
Holbein's history or control. But more than one circumstance presses
the conclusion that the designs were made between 1523 and 1526. And
there is a certain amount of evidence for the belief that they may have
been first struck off in Germany, possibly by some one of the
multifarious connections of the Trechsels, as early as 1527. But this
is a large subject, not to be dealt with as an aside.
All the world knows these wonderful designs; their beauty of line,
power of expression, and sparkling fancy. Among them all there are only
two where Death is a figure of violence; and but one,the knight,
transfixed by one fell, malignant stroke from behindwhere Death
exhibits positive ferocity. In both of these,the Count, beaten down
by his own great coat-of-arms, is the other,it is easy to read a
reflection of the actualities of the Peasants' War then raging.
For the rest, the grim skeleton wears no unkind smile; though that
he is Death makes it look a ghastly-enough pleasantry. But
toward the poor and the aged he is better than merry; he is kind. His
fleshless hand is raised in benediction over the aged woman; and the
bent patriarch leans on his arm, listening to Death's attendant playing
the sweet old melodies of Long-Ago as he stands on the verge of the
But where a selection must be made, there are two drawings with
their own special claim to consideration. These are the Ploughman and
the Priest (Plates 14 and 15). The former has been cited by Ruskin as
an example of a perfect design for wood-engraving; but even higher than
its art, to my thinking, is its feeling. To the labourer of this
sort,poor, patient, toilworn,Holbein's heart is very gentle. And so
is Deathwho muffles up his harsh features and speeds the heavy plough
with a step like that of Hope. And at the end of the long, last uphill
furrow, see how the setting sun shines on God's Acre!
Illustration: PLATE 15
Images of Death Woodcut series
Images of Death Woodcut series
The second selection, the Priest, is its own proof, if any were
needed, of how sharply Holbein distinguished cloth from cloth. In it,
nearly a decade after he had pointed Erasmus's satire on the unworthy
prelate or the unclean friar, may plainly be read that reverence for
the true priest which Holbein shared with all his best friends. In the
quaint, quiet street this solemn procession is too familiar a sight to
draw any spectator from the hearth where the fire of the Living is
blazing so cheerily. The good Father, very lovingly drawn, casts his
kind glance around as he passes on his Office with the veiled Pyx
carried reverently. Before him goes Death, his Server, hastening the
last mercy with eager steps. Under his arm is the tiny glass that has
measured the whole of a mortality; the sands have lost their moving
charm, and all their dazzle makes but a little shadow now. In his hand
is the bell that sounds Take heed, Take heed, to the careless; and
Pardon, Peace, to dying ears that strain to hear it. But largest of all
his symbols is the lamp in his right hand; his own lamp, the lamp that
dissipates Earth's last shadowsthe Light of Death.
Holbein must have had his own solemn memories of the Last Office as
he drew this picture of the good parish priest. For it was just about
this time that the Viaticum must have been administered to his father.
In 1526 the then Burgomaster of Basel wrote to the monastery at
Issenheim, where Hans Holbein the Elder had left his painting
implements behind him years before, in which he recalls to the Fathers
how vainly and how often our citizen, Hans the Younger, had applied
to get these costly materials restored to their owner during his life;
or to himself as his father's heir afterwards. This application was no
more successful than Holbein's own, apparently; and the painter was
told to seek his father's gold and pigments among the peasants who had
pillaged the monastery.
By 1526 Holbein was back in Basel; but two works of this year would
go to show that he was little less separated from his wife in Basel
than when away. The first of these, about one-third life-size, is a
portrait of a woman with a child beside her who grasps an arrow to
suggest the Goddess of Love attended by a wingless Cupid (Plate 16).
The little red-haired child does not do much to realise the ideal; but
the woman, though not an ideal Venus, might nevertheless well pose as a
man's goddess. A fair woman in more senses than her colouring. Her
dark-red velvet dress slashed with white; wide sleeves of dusky
gold-coloured silk; her close-fitting black head-dress embroidered with
gold; the soft seduction of her look; the welcoming gesture of that
pretty palm flung outward as if to embrace; these are all in keeping.
Illustration: PLATE 16
DOROTHEA OFFENBURG AS THE GODDESS OF LOVE
Oils. Basel Museum
This was a lady whose past career might have warned a lover that
whatever she might prove as a goddess, she could play but a fallen
angel's part. The annals of Basel knew her only too well. This was
Dorothea, the daughter of a knight of good old lineage,Hans von
Offenburg. But the knight died while she was quite young, and her
mother, better famed for looks than conduct, married the girl to a
debauched young aristocrat,Joachim von Sultz. His own record is
hardly less shameless than Dorothea's soon became,though the latter
is chiefly in archives of the unspeakable sort. At the time when this
picture was painted she must have been about two-and-twenty.
Unhappy Holbein, indeed! The temper of Xantippe herself, if she be
but the decent mother of one's children, might work less havoc with a
life than this embroidered cestus. But the German Apelles was no
Greek voluptuary, ambitious in heathen vices, such as that other
Apelles whose painting of Venus was said to be his masterpiece. And
when Holbein inscribed his second portrait of Dorothea with the words
LAÏS CORINTHIACA, the midsummer madness must have been already a matter
of scorn and wonder to himself. His whole life and the works of his
life are the negation of the groves of Corinth.
The paint was not long dry on the Goddess of Loveat any rate, her
dress was not worn outbefore he had seen her in her true colours;
the daughter of the horse-leech, crying Give, Give.
And so he painted her in 1526 (Plate 17); to scourge himself,
surely, since she was too notoriously infamous to be affected by it. As
if in stern scorn of every beauty, every allure, he set himself to
record them in detail: something in the spirit with which Macaulay set
himself, by the blessing of God, to do full justice to the poems of
Montgomery. Laïs is far more beautiful, and far more beautifully
painted, than Venus. No emotion has hurried the painter's hand or
confused his eye this time. In vain she wears such sadness in her eyes,
such pensive dignity of attitude, such a wistful smile on her lips. He
knows them, now, for false lights on the wrecker's coast. No faltering;
no turning back. He can even fit a new head-dress on the lovely hair,
and add the puffed sleeves below the short ones. He is a painter now;
not a lover. And lest there should be one doubt as to his purpose, he
flings a heap of gold where Cupid's little hand would now seem
desecrated, and inscribes beneath it the name that fits her beauty and
his contempt. The plague was raging in Basel all through that spring
and summer, but I doubt if Holbein shuddered at its contact as at the
loveliness he painted. The brand he placed upon it is proof of
thatLaïs Corinthiaca, the infamous mistress of the Greek Apelles.
Illustration: PLATE 17
DOROTHEA OFFENBURG AS LAÏS CORINTHIACA
Oils. Basel Museum
But in 1526 men sat among the ashes of far goodlier palaces and
larger interests than personal ones. The party in power was not
friendlier to Art than to the Church of Rome. In January the Painters'
Guild had presented a petition to the Council,humbly praying that its
members, who had wives and children depending on their work, might be
allowed to pursue it in Basel! And so hard was Holbein himself hit by
the fanatical excitement of the time that the Council's account-books
show the paltry wage he was glad to earn for painting a few shields on
some official building in the borough of Waldenburg.
Small wonder that an artist such as Holbein should feel his heart
grow sick within him, and should turn his thoughts with increasing
determination to some fresh field. Even without the bitterness that now
must have edged the tongue of a wronged wife, or the bitterer taste of
Dead Sea fruit in his own mouth,he must have been driven to try his
luck elsewhere. And of all the invitations urged upon him, the chances
which Erasmus's introductions could give him in England would probably
offer the greatest promise.
But before he set out with these letters, in the late summer of
1526, he executed yet one more great commission for his old friend,
Jacob Meyer zum Hasen, now leader of the Catholic party in opposition.
This was the work known now to all the civilised world as The Meyer
Madonna. For centuries the beautiful picture which bears this name in
the Dresden Gallery has been cited by every expert authority and critic
as this work. But since the mysterious appearance of the Darmstadt
painting, which suddenly turned up in a Paris art collector's
possession, from no one knows where in 1822, the tide of belief has
slowly receded from the Dresden painting. Until now there are only a
few judges who do not holdespecially since the public comparison of
the two works at Dresden in 1871that the Dresden picture is a copy
by an inferior hand.
Unquestionably the painting now in the Schloss at Darmstadt is the
earlier version. And unquestionably, too, the changes introduced in the
Dresden copy,the elevated architecture, slenderer figures, and less
happy Child,are so great as to lend weight to the arguments of those
who still claim that no copyist would ever have made them. But, as has
been said, the contention that the Dresden work is a replica by Holbein
of the older Darmstadt altar-piece, is now maintained by only a very
small minority of judges. The painting of the Darmstadt work is
admitted by all to be more uniformly admirable, more completely carried
out; the details more finished (except in the case of the Virgin), and
the colours richer and more harmonious. Yet both works should be
studied to appreciate fully their claims and differences (Plates 18 and
Illustration: PLATE 18
Oils. Grand Ducal Collection, Darmstadt
Illustration: PLATE 19
[Later Version. Held by many to be a copy]
Oils. Dresden Gallery
In the Darmstadt work the Virgin's dress is wholly different in tone
from her robe at Dresden; otherwise the colouring aims to be the same
in each. Here, in the original altar-piece, it is a greenish-blue. The
lower sleeves are golden, a line of white at the wrist, and a filmier
one within the bodice. Her girdle is a rich red; her mantle a
greenish-grey. Over this latter her fair hair streams like softest
sunshine. Above her noble, pity-full face sits her crown of fine gold
The woman kneeling nearest to the Madonna is commonly believed to be
Meyer's first wife, who had died in 1511, the mother of one childa
daughterby a previous husband. Between this stepdaughter and Meyer
there was considerable litigation over her property. The younger woman,
whose chin-cloth is dropped in the painting though worn like the others
in the drawing for her portrait, is Meyer's second wife, Dorothea
Kannegiesser, whom he married about 1512, and with whom he was painted
by Holbein in 1516. The sombre garments of both women are echoed by the
black of Meyer's hair and coat, the latter lined with light-brown fur.
Meyer's face, in its manly intensity of devotional feeling, is a
wonderful piece of psychology in the Darmstadt picture.
In the drawing for the young girl, Anna Meyer, who kneels beside her
mother with a red rosary in her hands, she has her golden-brown hair
hanging loose down her back, as befits a girl of thirteen. But in the
painting it is coiled in glossy braids beneath some ceremonial
head-dress; this is richly embroidered with pearls, with red silk
tassel and a wreath of red and white flowers above it. This head-dress
is painted with much more beautiful precision in the older work, and
the expression of the girl's face is much more deeply devout; her
hands, too, are decidedly superior to those of the Dresden work.
This is true also of the carpet, patterned in red and green, with
touches of white and black, on a ground of deep yellow. The Dresden
carpet is conspicuously inferior in finish and colour to that of
Darmstadt, so much so that Waagen and others, who believe the former a
replica, think a pupil or assistant may have been responsible for this
and other details, which for some reason Holbein himself was unable to
The elder boy, with the tumbled brown hair, dressed in a light-brown
coat trimmed with red-brown velvet, and hose of cinnabar-red, with
decorations of gold clasps and tags on fine blue cords, has a
yellowish-green portemonnaie, with tassels of dull blue hanging from
his girdle. All the carnations are superb, and in the Darmstadt picture
the infant Christ wears a sweet and happy smile. In that of Dresden He
looks sad and ill; a fact which has given rise to the theory Ruskin
adoptedthat the Virgin had put down the divine Child and taken up
Meyer's ailing one. But the absence of wonder on the faces of Meyer's
family, and, indeed, the familiar affection of the elder boy, would of
itself negative this theory. I have my own ideas as to this point, but
it would serve no useful purpose to go into them in this place. Of
these two sons of Meyer there is no other record. Anna alone survived
her mother, who married again after Meyer's death. Anna's daughter
married Burgomaster Remigius Fäsch, or Fesch, whose grandsonRemigius
Fäsch, counsellor-at-lawwas the well-known art collector whose
collection and manuscript are also in the Basel Museum, where there is
an oil-copy of the Dresden Meyer-Madonna.
Even the cool eye of Walpole was warmed by this great work of 1526,
as he saw it in the Dresden painting then hanging in the Palazzo
Delfino at Venice. For the colouring, he exclaims, it is beautiful
beyond description; and the carnations have that enamelled bloom so
peculiar to Holbein, who touched his works till not a touch remained
discernible. Twenty years earlier Edward Wright had written of Meyer's
youngest boyThe little naked boy could hardly have been outdone, if
I may dare to say such a word, by Raphael himself. And in our own day
that fine and measured critic, Mrs. Jameson, has spoken for generation
upon generation who have thought the same thought before the
Meyer-Madonna of Dresden, when she says of it: In purity, dignity,
humility and intellectual grace this exquisite Madonna has never been
surpassed; not even by Raphael. The face, once seen, haunts the
When Wright and Walpole saw this Dresden work at Venice, it was
supposed to be the family of Sir Thomas MoreMeier having
slipped into More in the course of centuries, which had retained only
the vivid impression of Holbein's association with the latter, and knew
that the painter had drawn him in the midst of his family. That living
association was now, late in the summer of this year, about to begin.
CHAPTER III. CHANCES AND CHANGES
First visit to EnglandSir Thomas More; his home and
Windsor drawingsBishop FisherArchbishop WarhamBishop
StokesleySir Henry Guildford and his portraitNicholas
KratzerSir Bryan TukeHolbein's return to
his wife and two eldest children; two versionsHolbein's
and families claiming descent from himIconoclastic furyRuined
artsDeath of Meyer zum HasenAnother Meyer commissions the
last paintings for BaselReturn to EnglandDescription of the
SteelyardPortraits of its membersGeorge GyszeBasel Council
summons Holbein homeThe Ambassadors at the National Gallery;
accepted identificationCoronation of Queen Anne BoleynLost
for the Guildhall of the Steelyard; the Triumphs of Riches and
PovertyThe great Morett portrait; identificationsHolbein's
and fertilityDesigns for metal-work and other drawingsSolomon
the Queen of Sheba.
Two years earlier Erasmus had evidently thought that London was the
true stage for such a genius as Holbein's, and More had written that he
would gladly do all he could to further the painter's success if he
should decide to visit England. More himself called Holbein a
marvellous artist for his portrait of Erasmus, and could not but be
delighted with the beautiful little woodcut which opened Froben's
edition of his own Utopia.
This illustration represents More and his only son seated with
Ægidius, or Peter Gillis, in the latter's own garden at Antwerp,
listening to the tale of Utopia from the ancient comrade of
Amerigo Vespucci. And very likely Holbein himself sat in this garden,
in the late summer of 1526, when he was passing through Antwerp to
England. He had a letter of introduction from Erasmus to Ægidius, as
also to the host who was expecting him in EnglandSir Thomas More.
Van Mander says that long before this the Earl of Arundel, when
pausing at Basel, had been so much pleased with Holbein's works in that
city that he had urged the painter to forsake it for London. But it
would pretty surely have been the promise of More's influence which
actually induced him to try his fortune so far afield. And by the
autumn of 1526 he was one of that happy company which the genial soul
of More drew around him in his new home in Chelsea Village, where
Beaufort Row now has its north end. Here the master's love of every
art, and aptitude in affairs, filled his hospitable mansion with wit
and music and joyous strenuousness. Here he was the idol of his family,
as well as the King's friend. Henry himself must surely have shuddered
could he have pictured that face, over which thought and humour were
ever chasing one another like sun and shadow on the lawn, black above
London Bridge and flung at last from it into the Thames only a few
years hence. Now it turned to his own all life and loyalty, as he laid
his arm around More's shoulders while they wandered between the garden
beds of Chelsea.
Early in 1527, probably, Holbein had finished the fine portrait of
his host, which is now in Mr. Huth's collection. The study for this oil
painting is among the Windsor drawings (Plate 20), as also one for the
large family picture now lost, if indeed it was ever completed by
Holbein; a matter of some doubt, notwithstanding Van Mander's account
of it in the possession of the art-collector Van Loo. An outline sketch
of it, or for it, he certainly made. And that precious pen-and-ink
outline,with the name of each written above or below the figure in
More's hand, and notes as to alterations to be made in the final
composition in Holbein's hand,is now in the Basel Museum; having come
into Amerbach's possession as the heir of Erasmus.
Illustration: PLATE 20
SIR THOMAS MORE
Chalks. Windsor Castle
In Mr. Huth's oil portrait More is wearing a dark-green coat trimmed
with fur, and showing the purple sleeves of his doublet beneath. His
eyes are grey-blue. He never wore a beard, made the fashion by Henry
VIII. at the same time that the head was polled,a singularly ugly
combination,until he was in the Tower and grew that beard which he
smilingly swept away from the path of the executioner's axe. It, he
said with astonishing self-possession, could be accused of no
treason. In 1527, however, no shadow of tragedy seemed possible unless
the suspicion of it slept in More's own heart when he said to his
son-in-law, in answer to some flattering congratulation on the King's
favour, Son Roper, if my head could win him a castle in France, my
head should fall.
But for these superb drawings in the Royal Collection at Windsor, we
should know nothing at all of many a portrait Holbein paintedall
among the immediate friends of More and Erasmus on this first visit to
England; nor, for that matter, of many a portrait painted in later
years. And how little these can be trusted to tell the whole tale of
achievement is shown by the fact that they include no studies for a
number of oil paintings that are still in existence.
Illustration: PLATE 21
JOHN FISHER, BISHOP OF ROCHESTER
Chalks. Windsor Castle
Of the drawings which represent a lost painting, there is a noble
one of Bishop Fisher, whose execution preceded More's by only a few
weeks. A literally venerable head it was (Plate 21), to be the
shuttlecock of papal defiance and royal determination not to be defied
with impunity. For assuredly if the life of the Bishop of Rochester
hung in the balance, as it did, in May, 1535, it was Paul III.'s mad
effrontery in making him a Cardinal while he was actually in the Tower
under his sovereign's displeasure which heated the King's anger to
white-hot brutality. Let the Pope send him a hat, he thundered, but
I will so provide that he shall wear it on his shoulders, for head he
shall have none to set it on! And on the 17th of that June he made
good the savage oath. Yet the painter, after all, has been more potent
than the King. For here lives Fisher. Bishop or Cardinal this is the
man, as More loved him.
A striking and richly painted oil portrait of Erasmus's Mæcenas,
Archbishop Warham, is in the Louvre; of which there are a number of
copies, as well as a replica, at Lambeth Palace. The latter was
exhibited at Manchester in 1857. The study for these portraits is among
the Windsor drawings. The painting in the Louvre has more vividness in
the carnations, and the impasto is thicker than at Lambeth; otherwise
the two are identical. But for myself I find a more seizing quality in
the chalk drawing than in either. There is something in its sunken
fading eyes that speaks of the majesty of office as well as its
Holbein painted a prelate of a very different sort in the oil
portrait of John Stokesley, Bishop of London, which is preserved at
Windsor Castle. And yet he dared to paint the Truthnow as always. The
painting is a masterpiece of modelling and soft transparency of light
and shade. But the truculent, lowering countenance leaves small doubt
that the sitter was a gentleman pre-eminently gey ill to live wi'.
There is another oil painting at Windsor which has not escaped the
injuries of time, but is none the less a splendid survival of 1527.
This is the portrait of Sir Henry Guildford, Master of the Horse to
Henry VIII., and holder of many another office of trust (Plate 22). It
has sometimes been thought that the yellow tone of the complexion was
due to over-painting, but the chalk drawing shows that it was a
Sir Henry, a warm friend to both More and Erasmus, was forty-nine
when he sat for this portrait. Under his black fur-trimmed surcoat he
wears a doublet of gold brocade. In his hand is the wand of office as
Chamberlain, and he is decorated with the collar and badge of the
He was always a great favourite with the King from the time when the
latter came to the throne and young Guildford, then twenty, was one of
the gayest, bravest, most loyal spirits about it. Always as ready for a
real battle as a mimic one; as clever at writing plays for the King's
amusement as at acting in them; as good in a revel as at a piece of
diplomacy; it is not much wonder that his knighthood in 1512 should but
have been the prelude to a long series of promotions.
Illustration: PLATE 22
SIR HENRY GUILDFORD
Oils. Windsor Castle
The affection of master and man, too, was singularly sincere for a
court. Sir Henry loyally supported the King's demand for a divorce, but
he was by no means ready to support a second marriage without the papal
preliminary. Hence he was not a persona grata to Anne Boleyn. Nor would
he stoop to curry favour at the expense of an honest conviction. When
Anne warned him that he was likely to lose his office as soon as she
became Queen, he promptly replied that he would spare her all concern
about that, and went straight to the King to resign the office of
Controller. The latter showed the depth of his affection by urging Sir
Henry, twice, to reconsider his determination. But he wisely preferred
to quit his apartments under the King's roof,without, however,
breaking the bond of mutual attachment. Five years after this picture
was painted he died; in May, 1532. Holbein also painted Lady
Guildford's portrait; an oil painting in Mr. Frewer's collection. And
Sir Henry selected him as one of the chief artists commissioned to
decorate the interior of the Banqueting Hall specially erected for the
celebration of the French Alliance in 1527. By all of which it would
seem that in securing a new patron the painter had once more made a
Erasmus had asked Ægidius to assist Holbein's success in any way he
could. And it was probably owing to a letter from the Antwerp scholar
that a friendship of many years sprang up between the painter and
Nicholas Kratzer of Munich, then Astronomer-Royal at the Court of Henry
VIII. It began with what was once a fine portrait. But the oil
painting, now in the Louvre (Plate 23), has suffered such severe
injuries as to be but a poor ghost of what it was originally. Only the
composition, and the fidelity with which all his friend's scientific
instruments are drawn attest Holbein. He never adds a detail for merely
pictorial purposes; and never shuffles one that concerns the
personality of a sitter. No biographer with his pen sets every straw to
show the winds of character and circumstance more deliberately than
does this historian with his brush. Something of Kratzer's shrewd
wit,for he was a charactercan still be read in his half-destroyed
picture. Years later we shall see the intimate friend of both him and
his painter writing of the astronomer as a man brim-full of humour
and fancy. And once, we may be sure, it sparkled in the eyes of
Kratzer's portrait as brilliantly as in his own.
Illustration: PLATE 23
Oils. The Louvre
In the Munich Gallery there is another portrait in oils which has
undergone, if possible, still more atrocious treatment than Kratzer's;
yet, like it, still keeps enough of its original charm to rivet
attention in any company. This latter is one of the most striking of
the half-dozen portraits of Sir Bryan Tuke, which all claim, with more
or less of probability, to be paintings by Holbein. And certainly in
the years when Sir Bryan was Treasurer of the King's Household it would
be natural that the painter, whose salary he regularly disbursed,
should gladly oblige him to his utmost.
But the Munich portrait also shows a far deeper bond of interests
than one of money. The undercurrent of their natures ran in a groove of
more than common sympathy; and to an analyst, such as Holbein was, the
reflections behind these inscrutable eyes were full of unusual
Myself, I feel convinced, for more than one reason, that it is a
work of some years later. But as a consensus of authorities places it
during this visit, the picture is noticed here. It gains rather than
loses by reproduction;since the painting now shows a strange
disagreeable colour most unlike the carnations of Holbein. But the
composition is unmistakable (Plate 24). Between the sitter and the
green-curtained background stands perhaps the ghastliest of all
Holbein's skeletons,one hand on his scythe, the other grimly pointing
at the nearly-spent sands of the hour-glass. Below the latter is a
tablet on which, in Latin, are the words of Job: My short life, does
it not come to an end soon? and the signature without the date. Sir
Bryan wears a fur-trimmed doublet with gold buttons; the gold-patterned
sleeves revealed by the black silk gown, also trimmed with fur. On a
massive gold chain he wears a cross of great richness, enamelled with
the pierced Hands and Feet. Fine lawn is at throat and wrists; and in
one hand he holds his gloves.
Illustration: PLATE 24
SIR BRYAN TUKE
Oils. Munich Gallery
* * * * *
Before the researches of Eduard His, it used to be sometimes said
that Holbein had virtually deserted his family when he left Basel in
1526. We know now, however, that whatever were the moral wrongs which
he suffered or committed, he never forsook the duty of providing for
his wife and children in no ungenerous proportion to his means.
The records show that the fruit of his two years' industry was used
to acquire a comfortable home which remained the property of his wife.
And the inventory of its contents at Elsbeth's death, some six years
after Holbein's death, proves that this home was to the full as well
furnished and comfortable as was usual with people of similar
In the summer of 1528 the painter bade farewell for ever to Sir
Thomas More's gracious Chelsea home. He took with him the pen-and-ink
sketch for a large picture of More in the midst of his family, which
has been already referred to. This was for Erasmus, who had temporarily
abandoned Basel,now so utterly unlike the Basel of former years,and
had sought the more sympathetic atmosphere of Freiburg. Bonifacius
Amerbach, from the same causes, was here with Erasmus for some time. So
that something like the old Froben days must have seemed still about
them as the three friends sat together and talked of all that had come
But by the latter part of August Holbein was back in that now
sadly-altered Basel whence his best friends were reft by trouble or
death. And on the 29th of August, 1528, he bought the house next to
Froben's Buchhaus, the deed attesting that he did so in person,
in company with Elsbeth. The price, 300 guldens or florins, was by no
means the small one it now seems, nor could the painter pay the whole
sum at once. He paid down one-third, and secured the rest by a
mortgage. The site of this house is now occupied by 22 St. Johann
Vorstadt. Three years later, March 28th, 1531, Holbein bought out a
disagreeable neighbour; and thus added to his two-storied house
overlooking the Rhine the little one-storied cottage which cost him
only seventy guldens. The factory at No. 20 now partially covers this
latter site. Fifty years ago both of the original houses were still
standing; quaint, crumbling, affecting monuments of days when Holbein's
voice and Holbein's step rang through their rooms, when Frau Elsbeth
swept and garnished them; and when four children added their links to
the chain of a marriage which Holbein was now manfully trying to make
the best of.
It must have been in the year after the purchase of the larger house
that he painted the group of his wife and the two children she had then
borne him. This life-size group, done in oils on paper, is now in the
Basel Museum (Plate 25). The stoical sincerity with which they are
represented, and the hard outline produced by cutting out the work to
mount it on its wood panel, makes a somewhat repellent impression at
the first glance. And this is in no way dispersed by studying Elsbeth's
traits. But the painting itself is a tour-de-force. By sheer Quality
Holbein has invested these portraits,a middle-aged, coarse-figured,
unamiable-looking woman, a very commonplace infant, and a bright-faced
boy,with the prestige inseparable from an achievement of a high
Illustration: PLATE 25
ELSBETH, HOLBEIN'S WIFE, WITH THEIR TWO ELDEST CHILDREN
Oils. Basel Museum
Clearly Elsbeth Holbein was not one to give up the costume of her
youth simply because she would have been well advised to do so; and the
cut and fashion of her dress remains almost identical with the drawing
in the Louvre. Her lustreless light-brown hair is covered with a gauzy
veil and a reddish-brown cap. Her brown stuff upper garment, trimmed
with thin fur, shows a dark-green dress beneath it. The baby wears a
gown of undyed woollen material, and the boy a jacket of dark bluish
Out of such unpromising materials has the painter made a picture
that would challenge attention among any. If we knew nothing as to the
identity of this woman, sitting oblivious of the children at her knee,
wrapped in her own dark thoughts, we should certainly want to know
something of her story and of the story of the little fellow whose eyes
are breathlessly intent upon some purer, sweeter vision. There is at
Cologne, in a private collection, a deeply interesting duplicate of
this work; also on paper afterwards mounted on wood, but not cut out.
Unfortunately this latter has suffered such irremediable injuries that
it is quite impossible now to pronounce upon its claim to be either the
earlier example or a replica; but good judges have believed it to be by
Holbein. Its chief interest, however, from a biographical point of
view, may be said to lie in the sixteenth-century writing pasted on at
the top. Literally translated, this runs
Love towards God consists in Charity.
Who hath this love can feel no hate.
It is difficult to see on what grounds Woltmann, who was inclined to
accept the picture as genuine, should hold the inscription to have been
added by someone desirous of increasing the value of the work by
representing it to be an allegorical picture of Charity. There was
never a time when the allegory, if accepted, could have carried the
same value as the portraits. And surely the second line is utterly
inconsistent with the theory. Original or not, it has a very startling
likeness to a plea which Holbein himself must have urged more than
once, to soften a bitterness his own errors could not have tended to
When the Basel painting was cut out to be mounted, the last numeral
was lost; so that it now stands dated 152-. But all the other facts put
it beyond question that the picture could not have been done before
1529. The baby of 1522 was now the boy of seven, and his successor
would seem to have been born during the first months of its father's
visit to England, and to be now some eighteen months old.
It may be as well to say here, once for all, as much as need be said
of Holbein's family. As already stated, his wife survived him by six
years, dying at Basel in 1549. By her first marriage she had one son,
Franz Schmidtwho seems to have been a worthy and successful man of
trade. She was the mother of four children by her marriage with
Holbein;Philip, born 1522; Katharina, 1527; Jacob, about 1530; and
Künegoldt, about 1532.
Some years before the painter's death he took Philip Holbein to
Paris, and there apprenticed him to the eminent goldsmith, Jerome
David, with whom he remained until a couple of years after Holbein's
death. Later, he somehow drifted to Lisbon, where he followed his trade
until he settled in the old home of his grandfather and
great-grandfather, Augsburg. In 1611 his son, Philip Holbein, junior,
then Imperial Court Jeweller at Augsburg, petitioned the Emperor
Matthias for letters patent to confirm his right to certain noble
arms. The claims put forward in this document are utterly at variance
with the received belief in Holbein's humble Augsburg origin. Yet the
most expert investigators who have carefully studied this subject agree
in thinking that this grandson based the genealogical tree on mythical
foundations, and therefore planted it remote from Augsburg itself. But
be this as it mayand it seems hard to reconcile such discrepancies
within a century of the time when both Hans Holbein the Elder and his
son were well-known citizens of Augsburg,the application was
successful. Mechel says that this Philip, who claims descent from the
renowned painter of Basel, lived in Vienna during his later years;
and that a descendant of his again got their patent confirmed in
1756, with the right to carry the surname of Holbeinsberg; also
that this latter descendant was made a Knight of the Empire in 1787, as
the noble von Holbeinsberg. So much for the eldest branch, that
of Philip Holbein.
The younger boy, Jacob, was a goldsmith in London after Holbein's
death. The evidence seems to show that he was never here previous to
that event,which of itself may have first occasioned his coming,
though hardly at the time, as Jacob was not more than thirteen at his
father's death. A document in existence proves that he also died in
London, about 1552, and apparently unmarried; at which time his elder
brother, Philip, was still in Lisbon.
Katharina, the elder daughter, the baby of the Basel painting, seems
to have left no descendants. She married a butcher of Basel and died in
1590. And in the same year, very likely from one of the frequent
epidemics so fatal to Basel, died Künegoldt, Elsbeth's youngest child.
The Merian family of Frankfurt-am-Main claims an hereditary right to
the artistic gifts of its famous copper-engraver, Mathew Merian, as
descendants of Holbein through this daughter Künegoldt, who, when she
died, was the wife of Andreas Syff, a miller, of Basel. According to
the greatest authority on this subject, Eduard His, to whose exhaustive
researches we owe almost all that is known of Holbein's family, the
Merian claims have not, so far, been proved by actual archives; but he
is of opinion that there is considerable circumstantial evidence to
support their claim to be lineal descendants of Holbein through the
But in 1529, when the family group was painted, neither Jacob nor
Künegoldt were yet born; and the painter was much more concerned with
the anxieties of a living father than with the shadowy cares of an
And dark enough was the outlook in Basel, where the Lutheran
agitation had, as Erasmus said, frozen the arts. Before Holbein came
back from England many churches had abjured all pictures. The tide of
religious antagonism had, as we know, driven both Erasmus and
Bonifacius Amerbach for a time to a Catholic stronghold; and had driven
their old friend Meyer to do literal battle on behalf of the Church.
Altar paintings were out of the question. And Holbein could but
devote himself to designs for the printers and for goldsmiths. Many
beautiful compositions for both crafts remain to testify of his matured
powers and constant industry. The exquisite designs for dagger-sheaths,
in particular, are rightly counted among the treasures of art. But in
the summer of 1530 came a commission for the painter's last great work
in Basel. This was the long-delayed order for the decoration of that
vacant wall in the Council Hall, which adjoined the house zum Hasen.
Oddly enough, this commission also came officially through a
burgomaster, Jacob Meyer. But the Meyer of 1530, Meyer of-the-Stag (
zum Hirten), had neither blood nor sentiments in common with the
Meyer under whom Holbein had done his first work in the Rathaus. Each
headed a party at deadly issue. For the past year Meyer-of-the-Hare had
vainly tried to turn back the clock or to stay the iconoclastic fury of
the hour. Religious fanaticism had wrecked him as well as every
beautiful piece of art on which it could lay its hands. And now at last
it mattered nothing any more so far as he was concerned. The dreadful
harvests that had brought virtual famine, the earthquake shocks which
had unsettled many a mental as well as material foundation, the
flooding devastations of the Birsig, the rage of Canton against Canton,
the Civil War ready to begin, Pope or Luther come by his own,it was
all one at last to Meyer zum Hasen, who died just as his protégé of
earlier years was commissioned to paint the blank wall.
But something of his spirit, something of what he himself had been
preaching to Basel in warning and threat for years, seems to have
passed on into the pictures Holbein set before the Council. The
paintings, alas! are no more. But a fragment or two and the drawings
for them show how truly grand the two works were which Holbein had
probably already intended should be his swan-song as Holbein
Basiliensis. He chose for his subjects Rehoboam's answer to the
suffering Israelites: My little finger shall be thicker than my
father's loins; my father hath chastised you with whips, but I will
chastise you with scorpions; and Samuel prophesying to Saul how dearly
he shall learn that Rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, and
stubbornness as an iniquity and idolatry.
Both subjects are treated in the Great manner. Rehoboam, leaning
forward from his throned seat with flashing eyes, and his little finger
seeming actually to quiver in the air, is wonderfully conceived. But
the meeting of Samuel and Saul (Plate 26) most splendidly demonstrates
how far Holbein towered above mere portraiture when he had the
opportunity. To picture this drawing in all the beauty of colour is to
realise what we have lost, and what his just fame has lost, with the
utter destruction of such works.
Illustration: PLATE 26
Behold to obey is better than sacrifice
SAMUEL DENOUNCING SAUL
Washed Drawing. Basel Museum
Not the greatest of the Italians could have improved upon the
distribution and balance of this composition. The blazing background,
the sense of a densely crowded host beyond what the eye can grasp, of
captives and captorsall the stupendous crackle and roar and shout and
sudden strained silence of Saul's immediate followersis amply matched
by those two typical protagonists, just then repeating the old drama
with varying fortunes on the world's new stage. The Secular Arm has
been short in the service of God, as interpreted by his Vicar; it has
thought, in Saul's person, to win the cause, yet spare its enemies.
Vain is it for him to run with humility, to tell what he has won and
what overcome and done. He has not destroyed Allroot and branch. For
reasons of personal policy, he has given quarter. And the Priest, for
God, will have none of his well-meaning excuses, of his good
intentions, his policy, his burnt offerings of half-way
measures;Behold to obey is better than sacrifice, begins his fierce
anathema, and to hearken than the fat of rams.
Doubtless the Protestant party read its own meanings into these
texts, when once the pictures were painted and paid for with
seventy-two good guldens. But two very significant facts form their own
commentary. One is that the only employment he received from the
Council afterward was to redecorate the old Lällenkönig monstrosity on
the bridge!and the other, that as soon as Holbein got his pay for
this disgraceful commission, a pay he was now much too hard pressed to
refuse, he quietly slipped away from Basel without taking the Council
into his confidence. Judging from his after conduct to his family, he
probably left the seventy-two guldens to support his wife and
childrennow four little onesuntil such time as he could send them
more from England; and took his way once more, in the late autumn of
1531, with knapsack and paint-brushes for the journey, to a city that
might give him few walls to cover, but would certainly not set him to
painting the town clock.
* * * * *
Things had changed in London also, and gravely, Holbein found, since
he had quitted Sir Thomas More's home at Chelsea with the sketch for
Erasmus, in the summer of 1528. He had barely settled himself, in the
City this time, before the struggle between Henry VIII. and the English
Clergy ended in that Convocation when the latter made its formal
Submission. And in the same month that this took place, Sir Henry
Guildford died. Then the three great Acts of Parliament, which swept
away the crying abuses of Benefit of Clergy, resurrected the dead
lands (so called because perpetually aliened in mortmain) by
restoring them to the national circulation of the Sovereign-Will, and
turned the rich stream of Annates or First-Fruits of the bishoprics
from the Pope's coffers to the King's,were passed in this year.
This legislation was followed by the solemn protest and then the
death of Archbishop Warham. So that now of that great and close quartet
of friends,Colet, Warham, More, and Erasmus,there were two on
either shore of the last crossing. And More could already see the dark
river ahead. His eye marked the consequences of the Acts as keenly as
his aged friend Warham had discerned them on his death-bed; and shortly
after the Submission, More resigned his great office as Chancellor.
These seem matters too high to twist the threads of a poor painter's
life. But in reality Holbein's career was shaped, from many a year
back, by such events as rarely touch the humble individual directly.
All his friends and all his patrons in this country were carried far
out of reach by 1532; and he must sink or swim, as they in darker
waters, according to his own powers. That under such unexpected
ill-fortune he did not immediately sink was due to two thingsthe
greatness of his powers, and the circumstance that a trading-company of
Continentals, chiefly German, was seated in London with immense wealth
and immense influence at its disposal, and that they were men who knew
how to appreciate Holbein at his worth.
The roots of the Steelyard (Stahlhof), or Stilyard, as it
is often called in early dramatists, go far back to the legendary
centuries of English history. From before the time of Alfred the Great,
traders from Germany had clustered together on the bank of the Thames,
close to where Cannon Street Station now stands. Amalgamation with the
Hanseatic League, and the necessities and gratitude of more than one
king of Englandbut especially of Edward IV.had made of the
Steelyard a company such as only the East India Company of later
centuries may be compared to. With the world's new geography and new
commercial conditions in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, its
methods and its monopoly of the seas were gradually superseded by the
great seamen of the Elizabethan era. But in Holbein's time, though
already some of the Hanseatic ships were too overgrown to pass London
Bridge and cast anchor at their own docks just above it, there was
scarce a cloud upon the colossal prosperity of the Steelyard.
Its walled and turreted enclosure, able to withstand the fiercest
assaults of Wat Tyler's men, stretched from the river northward to
Thames Street, and from Allhallows Street on the east to Dowgate Street
on the west; and it might well have been described as a German city and
port situated in the heart of the City of London. Its massive front in
Thames Street, where were its three portcullised and fortified gateways
with German inscriptions above and the Imperial Double-Eagle high over
all, was one of the sights of London. And the Steelyard Tavern was a
famous resort. When Holbein knew it well the greatest prelates and
nobles and all the Court crowd,which stretched its gardens and great
houses from the stream of the Fleet, just west of the City wall, to
Westminster Abbey,used to flock to this Thames Street corner of the
Steelyard to drink Rhenish wine and eat smoked reindeer-tongue and
Within the gates stood the big Guildhall, which answered both for
its councils and its noted banquets. The high carved mantelpieces and
wainscotting served admirably to display the glittering plate and
strange souvenirs of every known land and sea. On the walls which
Holbein's works were so to enrich hung portraits of eminent members of
the Guild. The Hall was flanked by the huge stone kitchen and by a
strong-tower for the safeguarding of special valuables. In the open
space between the Hall and the west wall of the enclosure was the
garden, where trees and flowers and a greenery of vines had been
planted in exact imitation of the gardens of the Fatherland. And here
sat Holbein among the Associates, many a time, over their good
cheer,as in the old Basel gardens of the Blume or the Stork in other
years, and heard only the German tongue or the songs of home around
Away down to the docks ran the lanes of warehouses; shops and booths
where every German trader or craftsman in London had his place; and
where the merchandise of the worldthe greater part of it destined for
Lübeck as a centre of European distributionmight be sampled. Here
were choicest specimens of the then costly spices of Cathay, or the
famous falcons of Norway and Livonia, for which English sportsmen were
willing to pay fabulous prices.
As in other guilds, the government of this cosmopolitan beehive was
that of a despotic democracy. All the inmates of the precincts were
subjected to a rule little short of monastic in its strict discipline.
The penalties for any infringement, for drunkenness or dicing or even
for an abusive epithet, were very severe. The civic duties of the
corporation, too, were sharply defined. In case of war every member had
his appointed post in the defence of London. Every master had to keep
the prescribed accoutrements and arms ready for immediate use, and the
repairs and maintenance of the Bishop's Gate were at the sole cost of
No chapel was erected within its enclosure, the Guild preferring to
be incorporated with the adjoining parish of Allhallows. Whether or not
there is any truth at the bottom of the ancient tradition that this
church had been originally founded by Germans, the Guild maintained its
own altar in it in Holbein's time, where Masses were said on its own
special days and festivals. So far are the facts from the common
supposition that the doctrines of Luther would find natural favour in
such a community, that the latter only gradually came into the Church
of England by the same slow processes which transformed the whole
parish around it. And when More, who was anything but Utopian
himself in the practice of tolerating heresy during his
chancellorship, headed a domiciliary visit in search of Lutheran
writings, he could find nothing but orthodox German Prayer-books and
the Scriptures, whose use among laymen he always strenuously advocated;
while every member of the community was able to make honest and hearty
oath at St. Paul's Cross that no heretic or heretical doctrine would be
tolerated amongst them.
Here, then, in this staunch citadel of his own faith, Holbein
naturally found a new circle of friends among whom it must have been
strangely easy to fancy himself back in the Fischmarkt of his young
years, with Froben and Erasmus and Amerbach and Meyer zum Hasen.
The curtain rings up on his work for the Steelyard,work which
covered many years and more fine paintings than could even be
enumerated herewith a superlative exhibition of all his powers. The
oil portrait of Georg Gyze, or George Gisze, as it is often written,
now in the Berlin Gallery (Plate 27), inscribed 1532, has called forth
the enthusiastic eulogies of every competent judge. By a piece of rare
good fortune it is in perfect preservation. The black of the surcoat
alone has lost a little of its first lustre; all the rest is as though
it had left the easel but the other day.
Illustration: PLATE 27
JÖRG (OR GEORGE) GYZE
Oils. Berlin Museum
The young merchant is seated among his daily surroundings in the
Steelyard. He is in the act of leisurely opening a letter addressed,
To the hand of the honourable Jörg Gyze, my brother, in London,
England (Dem ersamen herrn Jörg Gyzen zu Lunden in Engelant meinem
broder to henden). The merchant's motto, No pleasure without
care, is chalked up in Latin on the background, with his signature
beneath it. Written on a paper stuck higher up is a Latin verse in
praise of the portrait; also the date, and the sitter's
agethirty-four. On the racks and shelves are documents, books, keys,
a watch and seals, and a pair of scales. A gold ball is hanging from
above with a lovely chasing in blue enamel; a miracle of painting in
itself, to say nothing of the exquisite Venetian glass, filled with
water and carnation-pinks. This flower has its own meaning, and is
introduced in more than one of Holbein's portraits. On the rich
oriental table-cloth are writing materials also, with account-books,
seal and scissors.
Gyze himself is a fair-haired man, wearing a brilliant red silk
doublet beneath his black cloak. And the amazing thing is that amidst
this bewildering array of picturesfor every article is such in
itself, owing to the perfection of its paintingGyze is not lost or
overridden for a moment. It is unmistakably his picture; and he
dominates the accessories as much as he did in reality. The man, the
whole man, is there; and the things are there around him; that is all.
But that the eye recognises this is the demonstration of the painter's
own mastership. It is as much Holbein's peculiar secret as are the cool
shadows, the luminous glow, the astounding elaboration, all made to
express the dignity of one, and but one, theme.
As has been said, the Steelyard portraits are too many to even
catalogue here, covering many years. But Gyze's may be taken as their
high-water mark. For that matter it could not, in its own way, be
surpassed by any portrait. Holbein himself greatly surpassed it in the
matter of subtle and noble simplicity, in his two greatest extant
pieces of portraiturethe Morett of Dresden and the Duchess of Milan,
now in our National Gallery. But in technical powers, and the power of
subordinating their very virtuosity to the requirement of a true
picture, this was a superlative expression of his matured method.
In the midst of all his fresh London successes came a summons from
Basel, which must have made the painter smile a little grimly. It had
slowly dawned on the Council that Holbeinwhose renown they well knew
was a feather in Basel's capwas proposing to make a prolonged
absence. The result was a decision which the Burgomaster officially
conveyed to him. Jacob Meyer zum Hirten wrote to say that Holbein was
desired to return immediately to resume the duties of a citizen-artist,
and that the Council, anxious to assist him in the support of his
family, had resolved to allow him an annuity of thirty guldens yearly
until something better could be afforded. Whether he replied in
evasive terms, or whether he let the Lällenkönig speak for him, is not
By the time Holbein received this letter, written late in the autumn
of 1532, he was plunged into a year of almost incredible activity. The
whole of it would hardly seem too long for one such painting as the
life-size double portraithis largest extant portrait-paintingthat
now belongs to the National Gallery: The Ambassadors (Plate 28).
At the extremities of a heavy table, something like a rude
dinner-waggon, are two full-length figures which show a curious
reflection of his early defect in their want of sufficient height. At
the spectator's left stands a richly-costumed individual, whose
stalwart proportions, ruddy complexion, and boldly ardent eye denote
the perfection of vigorous health, and are in striking contrast to the
physique, colouring, and expression of his companion. The former wears
a black velvet doublet, which reveals an under-garment of gleaming
rose-red satin. Over all is a black velvet mantle lined and trimmed
with white fur. On his black cap is a silver brooch which displays a
skull. He wears a gold badge exhibiting a mailed figure spearing a
dragon suspended by a heavy gold chain. The hilt of his sword is seen
at his left hand, and his right grasps a gold-sheathed dagger. On this
latter is the inscription: ÆT. SVÆ. 29; and from it depends a massive
green-and-gold silk tassel, incomparably painted.
Illustration: PLATE 28
Oils. National Gallery
As has been noted, the complexion of the man at our right is
singularly pallid; the eyes mournfully listless; the skin of his
knuckles drawn into the wrinkles of wasting tissues. He wears a
scholar's cap and gown; the latter of some chocolate-brown pile, richly
patterned, and lined with brown fur. He holds his gloves in his right
hand and leans this arm on a closed book, on the edges of which is the
lettering: ÆTATIS SVÆ 25.
An oriental cover is spread on the table, and upon it are a number
of the scientific instruments common to astrology and to the uses of
astronomers like Kratzer, in whose portrait at the Louvre they are also
to be seen. On the lower shelf are mathematical and musical instruments
and books. The two latter are opened to display their text
conspicuously. Near the man at our left, and kept open by a T-square,
is the Arithmetic which Peter Apian, astronomer and globe-maker,
published in 1527. It is opened at a page in Division, with its German
text plainly legible and identical with the actual page, as seen in the
British Museum's copy of this edition.
The book nearest the man at our right, lying beneath the lute, has
been also identified as Luther's Psalm-book with music,in which the
German text is by himself and the music by Johann Waltherfirst
published in 1524. Mr. Barclay Squire has shown that the two hymns
could not, however, have faced each other in reality, as they do in the
painting, without the intervening leaves having been purposely
suppressed to gain this end. These hymns are Come Holy Ghost (Kom
Heiliger Geyst Herregott) and Mortal, wouldst thou live
blessedly? (Mensch wiltu leben seliglich). In each case the
entire verse is given.
The background is a green-diapered damask curtain most significantly
drawn aside to show a silver crucifix high up in the left-hand corner,
above the man with the dagger and sword. On the beautiful mosaic
pavement is an ugly object that looks like some dried fish. But
experiments have shown that the French Sale-Catalogues in which this
work first appears in the eighteenth centuryfirst, that is, so far as
we can trace it by any records now knownwere right in calling this a
skull in perspective; i.e. a skull painted as seen distorted
in a convex mirror. Some hint of its true character can be gathered,
though not much, by looking at this object from the lower left-hand
corner of the painting, when the exaggerated length will be seen to be
reduced to something more nearly approaching the height of the usual
According to the views which are now officially accepted by the
National Gallery, the persons of this picture are two French Catholics.
The one at our left is Jean de Dinteville, Seigneur of Polisy, Bailly
of Troyes and Knight of the French Order of St. Michael, of which he
wears the badge without the splendid collaras was permitted, by a
special statute, to persons in the field, on a journey, or in a privacy
that would not require the full dress of a state occasion. Jean de
Dinteville was French Ambassador at the Court of Henry VIII. in 1533;
born in 1504, he was then twenty-nine. He died in 1555.
The man in the scholar's cap and gown is George de Selve, privately
associated with de Dinteville's mission for a few weeks in the spring
of 1533. He was born in 1508, nominated Bishop of Lavaur in 1526, and
confirmed in that office in 1529, in which year he was French
Ambassador at the Court of Charles V. He was twenty-five in 1533, and
died in 1541.
For myself, holding convictions concerning these portraits utterly
at variance with any published opinionsand that in more than one
vital respectI am compelled to limit my account to the bare record of
its appearance and catalogued description, until prepared to submit
other facts and conclusions to a verdict.
Two portraits in the Hague Gallery, each with a falcon hooded on the
wrist, show to how much purpose Holbein had studied these birds in the
Steelyard. The one of Robert Cheseman, done in this year, is especially
fine, with a strange, elusive suggestion of something kindred in the
nature of man and bird.
In 1533, also, the Steelyard placed its contribution to the
celebration of Anne Boleyn's coronation in the painter's hands. And the
result was, as Stow tells us, a costly and marvellous cunning pageant
by the merchants of the Stilyard, wherein was the Mount Parnassus, with
the Fountaine of Helicon, which was of white marble; and four streams
without pipe did rise an ell high and mette together in a little cup
above the fountaine; which fountaine ran abundantly with Rhenish wine
till night. On the mountaine sat Apollo, and at his feet sat Calliope;
and on every side of the mountaine sate four Muses, playing on severell
But of more importance to his living fame were the two large oil
paintingsthe Triumph of Riches and the Triumph of Povertywhich he
executed for the Hall of the Steelyard. In their day they were renowned
far and wide; but they also have slipped into some abyss of oblivion,
perhaps to be yet recovered as miraculously as was the Solothurn
When the Guild was compelled to abandon the Steelyard, in Queen
Elizabeth's reign, the Hall stood so long unguarded and uncared for
that when it regained possession, under James I., everything was in a
sad state of neglect. And when the association finally dissolved not
long after, the Hanseatic League agreed to present these paintings to
Henry Prince of Wales, known, like Charles I., to be a lover of Art.
If they passed to the possession of the latter, he must have
exchanged them with, or presented them to, the Earl of Arundel. For in
1627 Sandrart saw them in the collection of the latter, like his father
an enthusiastic admirer of Holbein's work. After this, one or two vague
notices suggest that they somehow drifted to Flanders, and thence to
Paris. But there every trace of them is lost. Federigo Zucchero thought
they yielded to no work of the kind, even among Italian masters; and
copied them from pure admiration. Holbein's drawing for the Triumph of
Riches is in the Louvre Collection.
That he ever painted Anne Boleyn, unless in miniature, seems
doubtful. The portrait among the Windsor drawings which has been
labelled with her name agrees with no description of her in any single
respect. But in 1534 he painted one whose destiny was closely linked to
hersThomas Cromwell, then Master of the Jewel House.
And it was probably about this time that he painted what is in some
respects the greatest of all his portraitsone of the galaxy of
supreme works of all portraiturethe oil painting of Morett, or
Morette, so long regarded as a triumph of Leonardo da Vinci's art. The
world knows it well in the Dresden Gallery (Plate 29).
The figure is life-size. The pose, even the costume in its feasible
essentials, strikingly repeats the Whitehall portrait of Henry VIII.,
as copies show this to have been completed in the wall painting. The
background is a green curtain.
Illustration: PLATE 29
THE MORETT PORTRAIT
Oils. Dresden Gallery
The sitter wears neither velvet nor cloth-of-gold, nor Order of any
sort; but his costume is rich black satin, the sleeves puffed with
white, the broad fur collar of sable. In his cap is a cameo brooch. His
buttons are gold; and a gold locket hangs from a plain, heavy chain of
the same metal. His right hand carries his gloves, his left rests on
the gold sheath of the dagger that hangs from his waist. His auburn
hair and beard is streaked with grey.
No words, no reproduction, can hope to express the qualities of such
a painting. Neither can show the mastery or the spell by which the
green background, the hair, the cool transparent flesh-tones, the fur,
the satin, the gold, are all woven into a witchery as virile as it is
This is another work which has undergone more than one
transformation in the course of its records. As late as 1657 it was
correctly ascribed to Holbein in the Modena Collection. But the first
syllable of the sitter's name has been its only constant. In time
Morett slipped into Moretta, and thenlike Meier in the Madonna
pictureinto Morus. So far it seems to have clung to some English
tradition. But when Morus got changed to Moro it was but natural for an
Italian to think of Ludovico Sforza, Il Moro. Long before this
Holbein had become Olbeno; and thereafter a puzzle. When the portrait
was labelled Sforza, however, who could its obviously great painter be
but Leonardo? Et voilà! Thus the work passed to the Gallery and
Catalogue of the Royal Collection at Dresden. And thus it long
remained, as if to attest the true level of Holbein's genius.
But when the Gallery also acquired the drawing of the Arundel
Collection, labelled Mr. Morett in Hollar's engraving from it, the
painting was held to be unquestionably identified by it as Hubert
Morett, goldsmith to Henry VIII. Nor is there anything incongruous in
this belief. Such a master goldsmith was no tradesman, in our sense of
the word. He was often much more like one of our merchant princes. The
merchants of the Steelyard were frequently the royal bankers, and many
times were employed on high and delicate diplomatic missions to other
courts. Neither is there anything in the sitter's dress to forbid it to
a man of this stamp, even after the sumptuary laws of Henry VIII. were
passed; while there is much, very much, to suggest an English origin.
On the other hand, M. Larpent has now shown that the Arundel drawing
was down in a catalogue of 1746-7 as: One Holbein, Sieur de Moret, one
of the French hostage in England; and also that a Chas. sieur de
Morette is recorded among the four French hostages sent to England in
1519. It would thus appear that the painting is a portrait of Charles
de Solier, seigneur de Morette; an eminent soldier and diplomatist of
France; born in 1480, Ambassador to England more than once, and
finally, in 1534.
Besides all the portraits of Holbein's English period, many of them
scattered throughout the collections of all Europe, and many others now
lost, it must not be forgotten that he was at the same time pouring
forth miniature paintings, designs for engraving, designs for the
goldsmith, and conceptions of every sortfrom a carved chimney-piece
to a woman's jewelled trinket; and all designed with the same exquisite
precision and felicity. In the British Museum as on the Continent these
drawings are an education in themselves. And besides the portrait
studies in the Windsor Collection there is a sketch for a large
painting which, if ever executed, is lost: The Queen of Sheba visiting
CHAPTER IV. PAINTER ROYAL
Queen Jane SeymourDeath of Erasmus, and title-page portraitThe
Whitehall painting of Henry VIII.Munich drawing of Henry
of an heir and the Jane Seymour CupDeath of the
Duchess of MilanSecret service for the KingFlying visit to
and arrangements for a permanent returnApprentices his son
ParisPortrait of the Prince of Wales and the King's return
of ClevesThomas Howard, Duke of NorfolkCatherine
of Holbein's Basel citizenshipIrregularitiesProvision for
and childrenResidence in LondonExecution of Queen Catherine
HowardMarriage of Catherine ParrDr. ChamberUnfinished work
the Barber-Surgeons' HallDeath of HolbeinHis willPlace of
burialHolbein's genius; its true character and greatness.
These were years of pleasant friendships, too, as well as work and
cares. Nicholas Bourbon, scholar and poet, after his sojourn in London,
writes back in 1536: Greet in my name as heartily as you can all with
whom you know me to be connected by intercourse and friendship. And
after mentioning high dignitaries who had followed the King's example
of showing special courtesies to Bourbon, he adds: Mr. Cornelius
Heyss, my host, the King's Goldsmith; Mr. Nicolaus Kratzer, the King's
Astronomer, a man who is brimful of wit, jest, and humorous fancies;
and Mr. Hans, the Royal Painter, the Apelles of our time. I wish them
from my heart all joy and happiness. This little pen-picture of
Holbein's intimate circle is a beautiful break in the mists of
centuriesand shows us what manner of men they were among whom he had
made for himself an honoured place. We could ill spare it from the few
and meagre records of his life. It is also the very earliest
documentary evidence of his being in the King's immediate service.
It was in this very year, 1536, that he received his commission to
paint Anne Boleyn's successor, Jane Seymour, then on the throne the
block had left vacant. The Vienna Gallery possesses this painting, of
which another version is at Woburn Abbey, and the chalk drawing at
Windsor (Plate 30).
Illustration: PLATE 30
QUEEN JANE SEYMOUR
Oils. Vienna Gallery
The Queen was noted for her milk-white fairness, and Holbein has
borrowed the pearly shadows of the lily in rendering it. The figure is
a little under life-size. Her head-dress and robes of silver brocade
and royal velvet are studded with splendid rubies and pearls to match
the jewels on her neck and breast. The hands are as full of character
as of art.
The Queen's portrait may properly be said to belong to the great
wall painting which Holbein finished in 1537 for the Royal Palace at
Whitehall. But before that date the painter's inner life had suffered
one more great wrench. At midnight of July 12th, 1536, Erasmus died in
the home that had been his own, except for the Freiburg interval, ever
since John Froben's death in 1526; a death that had probably had much
to do with Holbein's first departure from Basel. That event had
uprooted the scholar from the old house zum Sessel, in the
Fischmarkt, and transplanted him to the home of Froben's son,
Hieronymus. The latter house, then known as zum Luft, is now No.
18, Bäumleingasse. And it was here that Erasmus passed away, his mind
keeping to the last its humour and its interests in all around him. But
no one, remembering how Fisher and More had died in the preceding year,
can doubt but that the good old man was very willing to be gone, away
from changed faces and changed waysthough Bonifacius Amerbach and
young Froben were as sons to him.
Basel, for all her differences with him, buried Erasmus with great
honours. But no tablet could so commemorate him as the noble monument
which Holbein built to him in the title-page he designed for Hieronymus
Froben's edition of Erasmus's Works, published in 1540. It is a
woodcut of extraordinary beauty. The full-length figure of the scholar
stands in cap and gown, with one hand resting lightly on the bust of
the god Terminus (the god of immovable boundary lines, significantly
conjoined to Erasmus's chosen motto: Concedo nulli) and the
other calling attention to this significant emblem of fixed
convictions. Not even the Louvre oil painting expresses the whole
Erasmus quite so completely or so nobly as this little drawing of the
man whom Holbein had loved and revered for twenty years; and to whom he
owed, in the first place, the splendid opportunities of his career in
And as he drew it, what ghosts of his own Past must have clustered
around the lean little figure! What echoes and visions! The Rhine, the
gardens, the clang of the press, the Fischmarkt, the friendly smiles at
Froben's and Meyer's firesides; his marriage; the stars and dews and
perfume of all his dreams in the yearsthose matchless years of a
man's young manhoodwhen he had walked with angels as well as
peasants, had seen the Way of the Cross, the Christ in the Grave, and
the Risen Lord even more clearly than the faces of flesh and blood.
Eheu fugaces! God help thee, Elia, how art thou sophisticated.
* * * * *
Ah, well! Those years, and the darker, sadder years that had led far
from them, were now like his oldest friendsdead and buried. The
Holbein of 1537 was painting the King of England on the wall of his
Privy Chamber. There was a place for honest pride as well as for honest
regret in his thoughts.
This painting perished with the palace in the fire of 1698. Charles
II., however, had a small copy of it made by Leemput. And a portion of
Holbein's original cartoon (Plate 31) in chalk and Indian ink, is in
the possession of the Duke of Devonshirethe face much washed out by
cleaning, and the outline pricked for transferring to the wall. The
figures are life-size, but Walpole has already noticed how the massive
proportions and solidly-planted pose of the King heighten the illusion
of a Colossus. Behind him stands the admirably contrasted figure of
Henry VII. The whole composition consisted of four portraits; Queen
Jane Seymour opposite her husband, and the King's mother opposite to,
and on a level with, Henry VII., who stands on the elevation of the
Illustration: PLATE 31
KING HENRY VIII AND HIS FATHER
(Fragment of Cartoon used for the Whitehall Wall-Painting)
Duke of Devonshire's Collection
The pose and costume of Henry VIII. in the cartoon were, as
Leemput's copy shows, faithfully carried out in the painting; but in
the latter the face was afterwards turned to the full front view
familiar to us in the many copies of the King's portrait which so long
passed as works of Holbein, on the strength of reproducing his own
painting. There is no evidence that he ever again painted Henry VIII.
or that he executed any replica of this portrait. The old copy at
Windsor Castle serves, however, to recall its details of costume; such
as his brown doublet stiff with gold brocade and scintillating with the
gleams of splendid jewels, his coat of royal red embroidered with gold
thread and lined with ermine to match the wide collar; his plumed and
jewelled cap; as also the huge gems on collar, pendant, rings, and the
gold-hilted dagger in its blue velvet sheath.
But Holbein's own portrait of Henry VIII.as shown by the original
chalk study from life now in the Munich Gallery (Plate 32)may in all
sobriety of speech be called a stupendous work. Looking at this
marvellous drawing and picturing to one's self those cheeks informed
with pulsing blood, those lips with breath, those eyes with blue
gleams,it is easy to understand that Van Mander was using no
hyperbole when he said that the painting on the wall of the Privy
Chamber made the stoutest knees to tremble. It was literally, as he
said, a terrible painting, of which none of the stupidly-heavy copies
that have for the most part travestied Holbein's work give any true
conception. Many a man could paint cloth-of-gold and gems; but only
once and again in the centuries comes a man who can thus paint, not
alone the mane and stride of the lion, but the fires that light his
glance, the roar rushing to his lips. To look long into these eyes that
Holbein had the genius to read and the firmness to draw, is to feel
one's self in the grip of an insatiable, implacable, yet leonine soul;
a being who, to borrow the matchless description of Burke's political
career, is parted asunder in his works like some vast continent
severed by a convulsion of nature; each portion peopled by its own
giant race of opinions, differing altogether in features and language,
and committed in eternal hostility with one another. And so long as
the great drama of Tudor England enthrals the minds of men, hard by
Shakespeare's supreme name must be read the name of the painter in
whose pages the actors in that drama have been compelled themselves to
Illustration: PLATE 32
KING HENRY VIII
(Life-study; probably for the Whitehall Painting)
Chalks. Munich Collection
To crown the King's pride, and to the no less intense delight of the
whole nation which saw in this event the rainbow of every promise, at
Hampton Court, on the 12th of October, 1537, Queen Jane Seymour gave
birth to the son who was to reign so briefly as Edward VI. And it was
doubtless in connection with this happy circumstance that the King
commissioned Holbein's design for a truly royal piece of goldsmith's
work. This drawing, generally known as the Jane Seymour cup, is at
Oxford, in the Bodleian Library (Plate 33).
No sketch of the artist's powers would be even barely complete
without a realising sense of their versatility. And in this design
Holbein has more than equalled the highest achievement of his great
contemporary, Benvenuto Cellini, at this time in the service of the
French Court. The initials of the King and Queen, H. and J., and the
exceedingly judicious motto of the latterBound to obey and to
serveare recurring devices. But it is in the originality and
unflawed beauty of the wholethe springing grace of outline, the taste
and cunning with which flowers of gold naturally bloom into gems and
pearls, the combination of freest, richest fancy with every restraint
of a pure tastethat the perfection of this little masterpiece
Illustration: PLATE 33
DESIGN FOR THE JANE SEYMOUR CUP
In the midst of all the public rejoicings, the Te Deums, feasts, and
bonfires, came the thunderclap of the young mother's death. Some
negligence had permitted her to take cold, and on the twelfth day after
his coveted heir was born, Henry VIII. was once again a widower. The
Court went into deepest mourning until the 3rd of February. But Thomas
Cromwell was very shortly authorised to take secret steps to ascertain
what Princess might most suitably fill the late Queen's vacant place
and strengthen the assurance of an unbroken succession.
Choice fell at first on a Roman CatholicChristina, the
sixteen-year-old widow of Francis Sforza Duke of Milan, who had died in
the autumn of 1535. The upshot of private inquiries was that Holbein
was sent over to Brussels in March, 1538, to bring back a portrait of
this daughter of Christian of Denmark and niece of Charles V. And
although the painter had but three hours in which to do it, he did make
what Hutton described as her very perffight image; besides which,
said the envoy, the portrait previously despatched, though painted in
all her state finery, was but slobbered.
From this perffight painting, which could not have been more than
one of his portrait studies, he afterwards completed that full-length
oil painting which is worthy to rank with his great Morett portrait. By
the kindness of the Duke of Norfolk, who has lent it, this beautiful
work is now in the National Gallery (Plate 34). But unhappily for its
best appreciation, to my thinking at least, it hangs at one side and in
too close proximity to the bold colouring of The Ambassadors; so that
its own subtle, yet reticent superiority is well-nigh shouted down by
its lusty neighbour. It is a picture to be seen by itself; as it must
stand by itself in the usual inane gallery of women's portraits.
Hutton tells us that the painter who slobbered Christina's
portrait had painted her in full dress. But Holbein's eye was quick to
recognise the values of her everyday dressthe widow's costume of
Italyin enhancing the distinction of her face and the stately
slenderness of her figure. And so he drew her as she stood, with a hint
of bending forward, her gloves being restlessly fingered in a shy yet
proud embarrassment, in the first moments when he saw her.
Illustration: PLATE 34
CHRISTINA OF DENMARK, DUCHESS OF MILAN
Oils. National Gallery
[Lent by the Duke of Norfolk]
The portrait is nearly life-size. Over a plain black satin dress she
wears a gown of the same material, lined with yellow sable. Her hair is
entirely concealed by a black hood. At her throat and wrists are plain
cambric frills. The ranging scale of tawny tonesin the floor, the
gloves, the fur, the golden glint in her brown eyesand the one ruby,
on her hand, are the only colours, except those of her fresh young lips
and skin and the black and white of her costume. She is not so white
as the late Queen, wrote Hutton, but she hath a singular good
countenance, and when she chanceth to smile there appeareth two pits in
her cheeks and one in her chin, the which becometh her excellently
It is easy to believe that they did, but her dimples did not chance
for Henry VIII. Whether she really sent him, along with her picture,
the witty refusal credited to herthat she had but one head; had she
two, one should be at His Majesty's serviceor whether it was the
Emperor's doing entirely that his niece married the Duke of Lorraine
instead of the man whose first wife had been Charles V.'s aunt, there
is, at all events, a soft lurking devil in the demure little face which
seems to whisper that the answer was one which she could have made an'
Van Mander heard from Holbein's circle a story which modern pedantry
is inclined to flout. This is, that when an irate nobleman wanted the
painter punished for an affront, the King hotly
exclaimed:Understand, my lord, that I can make seven earls out of as
many hinds, any day; but out of seven earls I could not make one such
painter as this Holbein. An eminently ben-trovato story, at all
events. And certain it is that the painter stood sufficiently high in
the royal favour to be despatched on some special private mission for
the King in the summer of 1538, of which the secret was so well kept
that nothing beyond the record of payment for it has ever transpired.
From this date Holbein's name is regularly down in the Royal
Accounts. The amounts drawn total, it has been computed, about £360 in
present value, and would make an agreeable annual addition to his other
earnings. So that it is little wonder he was not tempted by the small
sum offered by the Basel Council in 1532. But in 1538 the Council
greatly increased the old offer, and was so anxious to have him among
her citizens that the painter seized the opportunity of his secret
mission to Upper Burgundy, whatever it was, to pay a flying visit to
Basel in the interests of his family.
* * * * *
His old companions of the Guild of St. Johann Vorstadt made this
visitwhen Holbein was back among them, as was noted, in silk and
velvetthe occasion of a grand banquet in his honour. But the real
motive for his visit was to arrange upon what terms he could meet the
Council's wishes. The terms were far from ungenerous, as is shown by
the contract which followed him back to London.
In this the Council bound itself, in consideration of the great
honour of retaining in their city a painter famous beyond all other
painters on account of the riches of his art, and in further
consideration of his promise to make no absence from Basel more
prolonged than should be really necessary to carry his foreign
commissions to their destination and receive his pay for themto give
him an annuity of fifty guldens, equally whether Holbein should be ill
or well, but only during his own life. In addition to this, they
granted him permission to make short visits to specified art-centres,
of which Milan was one, once, twice, or thrice, every year. And
recognising the impossibility of his freeing himself from his English
engagements in less than two years, they also granted him this interval
before he need resume his residence at Basel; and engaged to pay forty
guldens yearly to his wife, on his behalf, for each of these two years.
There is every probability that Holbein himself took a goodly sum to
Basel to invest for his family's permanent benefit in one way and
another. For it could only have been as a part of this gleaning for
them that he drewas the Account Books show that he did just at this
juncturea whole year's salary in advance from the Royal Exchequer;
seeing that the same books prove that he was liberally paid for all his
own expenses on the King's service, in addition to his regular salary.
Part of the sum he collected to take with him was doubtless used to
apprentice his son Philip, now sixteen, to the goldsmith's trade. And
that the father chose Paris for this purpose, where he left Philip on
his return journey, might well be due either to his own estimation of
Jerome David, to whom Philip was indentured, or to the fact that
Benvenuto Cellini's presence at Paris afforded some advantage; or that
his own promised return to Basel would make it preferable to have the
lad on the same side of the Channel as all his family. And that Holbein
fully intended to make the necessary and obvious sacrifice involved in
exchanging London for Basel is also proved by a contemporary account.
His intention was, says his fellow-townsman, had God lengthened his
life, to paint many of his pictures again at his own expense, as well
as the hall in the Rathaus. The paintings on the Haus zum Tanz
he pronounced 'pretty good.' But it was not to be.
His New Year's offering to the King on the opening of 1539 was a
portrait, probably the oil painting in the Hague Gallery, of the infant
Prince of Wales. It was a spirited picture of the royal baby with his
gold rattle in his chubby little fist, such as might have delighted a
father less doting than Henry VIII., whose return gift is recorded: To
Hans Holbyne, paynter, a gilte cruse with a cover, weighing x oz. 1
quarter. The cruse was made by a friend of the painter; that Cornelius
Hayes, goldsmith, whom Bourbon's letter mentioned in connection with
him in 1536.
All these months the negotiations for the hand of the Duchess of
Milan had fluctuated with the varying fortunes of the King's relations
with her uncle, Charles V. But at last they had altogether collapsed
with what seemed to Henry VIII. the threatening attitude assumed by the
Emperor and the Pope. Hereupon followed that historical chapter, so
full of fatal consequences to Cromwell, and no less big with shame for
the King's own story: the pitiful chapter of Anne of Cleves.
Her brother, the Duke of Cleves, was at this time a troublesome foe
to the Emperor; while the fact that she was a Protestant was a Roland
for the Imperial and Papal Oliver. So Holbein was again posted off to
bring back a counterfeit of Anne, and to carry to her a miniature of
the King. And by the 1st September he had acquitted himself of the new
There is not an iota of historical or other evidence for that
Flanders mare anecdote, which seems to have had a gratuitous as well
as spontaneous origin in Bishop Burnet's seventeenth-century brain, to
the effect that the King was the victim of a flattering portrait by
Holbein, and cruelly undeceived by the actual looks of his bride. In
the first place his agents wrote to him frankly that the Princess was
of no great beauty, though not uncomely, and never from the ellebowe
of the Ladye Duchesse her Mother, who was said to be most unwilling to
part with her (as a mother might well be, for the husband in question).
The King was also told that she was quite unskilled in languages or
music, and held, with her mother, that it was for a rebuke and an
occasion of lightenesse that great Ladyes shuld be lernyd or have enye
knowledge of musike. And in the next place even a superficial
knowledge of Holbein would disprove any tradition of flattery from
his unflinching, almost brutally truthful brush. It was hardly likely
that the painter who would not stoop to flatter Bishop Stokesley, or
Henry VIII. himself, would be swerved from his good faith by Anne of
Illustration: PLATE 35
ANNE OF CLEVES
Oils. The Louvre
On the contrary, the painting, in oils on vellum and mounted on a
panel, now in the Louvre (Plate 35), is the very embodiment of
contemporary accounts of this Princess. Her fair-skinned, commonplace,
yet not uncomely face looks out placidly at you from the quaint
Flemish head-dress of fine gauze and jewelled cloth-of-gold. Her inert
hands (Holbein's hands belong to his truth-telling revelations),
jewelled even on the thumb, are listlessly clasped upon each other; her
crimson-velvet dress is heavily banded with gold and pearl embroidery.
No Venus certainly, and perhaps somewhat heavily handicapped by the
maternal elbowe. But still perfectly in keeping with her descriptions
and making no denial to the French Ambassador's statement that she was
the gentlest and kindest of queens; or to an English eye-witness who
writes that at her coronation the people all applauded her for being
so fayre a Ladye, of so goodly a stature and so womanly a countenance,
and in especial of so good qualities.
The fact is that the King's very cruelty to this poor girltorn
from her mother's side and her Protestant home in Dürren to be the pawn
of an unscrupulous diplomacywas based on grounds, at least, less
infamous than that of a slave-buyer. After both Cromwell and Holbein
had been well rewarded for their services, the former lost his head and
the Queen her crown on considerations that took no more account of her
looks than her feelings. The Catholic glass had risen; the King himself
was not ashamed to avow it; and the Protestant alliance was therefore
an incubus. After some two months of a queen's and wife's estate, poor
Anne of Cleves was bid to pack her belongings and take up a separate
establishment as an unmarried woman. No wonder she fainted when first
informed of such an infamy.
But there was no law in England save the fiat of Henry VIII.
The marriage was pronounced null and void, and Anne retired into
private life, on the rigid condition that she would make no attempt to
ever quit England, with an allowance of £3,000 a year, and the formal
title of the King's sister. There was no help for her. Never again
for her would there be the austere joys of Dürrenher mother's side,
her own timid dreams of other companionship, and never the price at
which she had lost them.
At the head of the triumphant anti-Protestant, anti-Cromwell party
stood Thomas Howard, third Duke of Norfolk, whose portrait, in the
Royal Collection at Windsor, Holbein painted about this time (Plate
36). The lean face and the figure clothed in red stand out strikingly
from the plain green background, although the painting has suffered not
a little injury. The robe is lined and trimmed with ermine, and over it
is the collar and badge of the Order of the Garter. In his right hand
he holds the gold baton of his office as Earl Marshal, and in his left
the White Staff of the Lord Chamberlain.
Illustration: PLATE 36
THOMAS HOWARD, THIRD DUKE OF NORFOLK
Oils. Windsor Castle
According to Roper, Norfolk, then Earl of Surrey, was a great friend
of Sir Thomas More. But it would be hard to imagine a greater contrast
than the records of the two men. The latter a pattern of personal
purity and lofty ideals; the former as venal as the King's Parliaments,
and as unscrupulous in pursuit of his passions as the King himself.
Norfolk's star of influence had already waxed and waned with the
evil destinies of one niece, before it arose anew with the fortunes of
another only to plunge sharply after them into the gulf of ruin. For
the present he and Gardiner, restored to favour with him, were
all-powerful. Their calculations seemed to prosper, too, beyond their
most ambitious dreams, when, instead of ruling through a rival to Anne
who should be the King's mistress, they were to rule through a legal
successor. For the King was nothing if not technically correct; and
from the moment when the fatal royal glance flamed on Catherine Howard
when Gardiner was entertaining him, nothing would do but she should
become his wife. And thus once more the wild wheel of Fortune was to
make Norfolk uncle to a Queen of England.
Anne was divorced on the 12th of July, 1540, and on the 28th of the
same month, on the very day when Thomas Cromwell was beheaded, the King
married Anne Boleyn's cousin, Catherine Howard. On the 8th of August
she was proclaimed Queen, and on the 15th of that month she was
publicly prayed for as such in all the churches of the realm. Well
might she be! Dry your outraged tears, Anne of Cleves, and give thanks
to God that you are well out of it!
There is a miniature in the Windsor Collection now believed to be
Holbein's portrait of Catherine Howard. Until recently it was held to
be the portrait of Catherine Parr. But there is a larger portrait of
the former among the Windsor drawings, a study evidently made for an
oil painting (Plate 37). By this it seems that she had auburn hair,
hazel eyes, a fair complexion, and a piquant smile. There is a painting
which accords with this drawing in the Duke of Buccleuch's collection,
but it is said to be by a French artist.
Illustration: PLATE 37
Chalk Drawing. Windsor Castle
In the autumn of this year, 1540, the two years of absence expired
which had been granted to Holbein by his contract with the Basel
Council. But he had now formed ties which were too powerful to yield to
Basel's. Those plans of painting again the walls by which coming
generations would judge him, the resolve to try again if he and Elsbeth
might not manage to live in peace under one roof where the children,
who were strangers to him, should come to know and be known by him in
something more than name, were all relinquished. They must certainly
have been relinquished on some definite mutual understanding, and at a
compensation agreed upon between him and Elsbeth and his step-son,
Franz Schmidt; because it must have been Holbein himself who enabled
Franz, acting on his mother's behalf, to take over as he did the entire
legacya snug little competency in itselfto which Holbein fell heir
in this autumn by the bequest of his uncle, Sigmund Holbein, citizen of
Berne. Philip having been launched by his father in the goldsmith's
craft, there only remained the second son and two daughters at home.
Thus so far as mere money went, Holbein might now think himself
discharged from the support of his family, and free to divert his
future earnings from them. And, as has been said, the Will and
Inventory proved at Elsbeth's death, six years after her husband's,
that he had made no bad provision for them in the matter of material
comforts, however remiss his conduct in its moral aspects.
The Royal Accounts break off in 1541, but the Subsidy Roll for the
City of London has a very precious item for Holbein's biography in the
October of this year. This announces that Hanns Holbene is among the
straungers then residing in the Parisshe of Saint Andrew
Undershafte, and that he is assessed as such.
Not only the Windsor chalk drawings, but the paintings at Vienna,
Berlin, and other Continental galleries, show the pressure, as well as
the high level of quality, at which he was now working. These portraits
are among almost his very best, while the one shortly to be mentioned
is quite among them.
By the summer of 1542 the tragedy of Catherine Howard was over. That
Royal Progress, like more than one of its forerunners, had become the
royal shame. This time it was a shame so black and so wide that within
two years, after madness and death had purged the complicity of many,
there still remained so many more involved in the sins and follies of
Norfolk's niece that the ordinary prisons were unable to contain all
that were arraigned; a shame so bitter that when the proofs of it were
first laid before Henry VIII. the Privy Council quaked to see him shed
tears. It was, they said with awe, a strange thing in his courage!
The guilty woman had her own tears to shed in expiation; but in the
dawn of February 12th, 1542, she walked to the block as full of wilful,
cheerful audacity, and as careful of her toilet, as she had ever gone
to meet her royal lover. And so the auburn head of the King's fifth
wife rolled from the axe that had severed her guilty cousin's.
On July 12th, 1543, the next year as it then began, the King
married Catherine Parr. She had been twice widowed and was about to
marry Sir Thomas Seymour when the King interfered, and she became his
wife instead; though one can well credit the story that she tremblingly
told him, It were better to be his mistress. She was a good woman, a
generous stepmother, and a good wife. But there is plenty of
probability for the assertion that her own death had been debated with
the King when her wit delayed it, and his death set her free to marry
at last the man from whom the King had snatched her.
It was formerly believed, as has been said, that Holbein had painted
her miniaturethe one at Windsor, now declared to be the portrait of
Catherine Howard. About this time he must have painted the great
portrait of which mention has been made. This is the oil portrait of
Dr. Chamber, the King's physician, now in the Vienna Gallery (Plate
38). The sitter was, as the inscription shows, eighty-eight years old;
and the strong, stern face is full of that inward look which comes to
the faces of men whose meat and drink has been a lifetime of heavy
responsibilities. He had been associated with the Charter of the
College of Physicians in 1518, and was also instrumental in that of the
Guild of Barbers and Surgeons, in 1541. And it was probably through
him and Dr. Butts, another physician to the King whom Holbein had
painted and who was likewise a Master of the new Guild, that he
undertook to paint a large work for their hallHenry VIII. granting
their Charter to the Master-Surgeons kneeling before him.
Illustration: PLATE 38
Oils. Vienna Gallery
This work Holbein did not live to finish; and it is to-day
exceedingly doubtful as to how much of the smoke-blackened painting is
by him. The very drawing has a woodenness foreign to his compositions,
and much of the painting is by an evidently inferior hand. But good
judges hold some of the heads to be undoubtedly his work.
However this may be, with the autumn of 1543 Holbein's life came to
a sudden close. Van Mander, wrong as to the date by eleven years which
have fathered a host of spurious Holbeins on the Histories of
Art, is apparently right as to the cause of deaththe Plague. By the
great discovery of Hans Holbein's Will, found by Mr. Black in 1861
among the archives of St. Paul's Cathedral, it is proved that the
painter made his Will on October 7th, and must have died between this
and November 29th, 1543, when administration was granted to one of his
executors (the other would seem to have perished, meanwhile, from the
same epidemic). This surviving executor was an old friend of the
artist, whose portrait, in the Windsor Gallery, he had painted eleven
years beforeHans of Antwerp, a master-goldsmith of the Steelyard.
The Will bears about it evident signs of having been made in great
haste and mental disturbance. But it accomplished all that Holbein
probably had at heart; that is, the ensuring that whatsoever moneys
could be collected from his accounts, or by the sale of all my goodes
and also my horse, should first be applied to clear a couple of
specified debts, and the rest be managed for the sole benefit of my
two chylder which be at nurse. From the very fact that nothing as to
the identity or whereabouts of these babies is mentioned, it is clear
that Holbein relied on the verbal instructions which he had given to
his trusted friends and to their complete understanding of all the
circumstances as well as of his wishes. He was only concerned,
apparently, that such small means as could thus be saved for them
should not be permitted to pass to his legal heirs.
No other heirs are mentioned; no other legacy is made. From the Will
alone one who did not know otherwise would suppose that he had no other
family or relatives in existence. The Plague left no man in its
neighbourhood much leisure for explanations. Stowe records that the one
of that autumn was such a great death that the Law Courts had to be
transferred to St. Albans. But two things seem to speak in this curt
document. First, that by the transference of his uncle Sigmund's little
fortune to Franz Schmidt (as trustee for Elsbeth and the children of
her marriage with Holbein), which the archives prove took place three
years earlier, and by his other arrangements for his family at Basel
and for Philip at Paris, Holbein held himself free of any further
responsibility for their support, and, indeed, determined that they
should not obtain possession of the residue in London.
Secondly, that if the mother of his two illegitimate children had
lived with him in London as his wife, she must have just diedperhaps
in childbed, perhaps of the Plague. She is not in any way referred to.
And there is something in the very signs of confusion and distress
throughout the wording of the Will which seems to exhale a far-away
anguishsudden parting, sad apprehensions, keenest anxiety for my two
chylder which be at nurse. There comes before the eye a picture of the
five grave menHolbein, his two executors, the one a goldsmith, the
other an armourer, and his two witnesses, a merchaunte and a
paynterhurrying along the plague-infected streets to get this
document legalised as some protection for two motherless babies, in the
event of their father's death. No man knew whose turn would come within
And by November 29th Holbein's had come, and one executor's also,
apparently. The Latin record of administration on this date is that it
has been consigned to John Anwarpe (Johann or Hans of Antwerp), and
accepted by him in accordance with the last will of John, alias Hans
Holbein, recently deceased in the parish of Saint Andrew Undershaft.
It would seem probable, then, that the painter was buried in this
church rather than in the closely adjoining church of Saint
Catharine-Cree to which tradition assigned his body. But the horrors of
such an epidemic as that in which the painter was swept suddenly away
make it easy to understand how even such a man as he had now become
could die unnoticed and be buried in an unrecorded grave. When the Earl
of Arundel, a few years later, sought to learn where he might set up a
monument to one he so greatly admired, there was only this vague and
uncorroborated rumour that the painter was buried in Saint
Catharine-Cree. And so no monument was built to mark the spot where
Holbein's measure of sliding sand had been spilled at last.
But, as they ran, those sands had measured more than a great
portrait-painter. They had measured Greatness; greatness which is
not to be delimited by the wanton outrages of man or the accidents of
time. Both have had their share in the judgments of generations that
have lost all his greatest and nearly all his imaginative creations.
And what the Spoiler has spared, the self-styled Restorer has too often
ruined. Self-love, on the other hand, and family pride have been
engaged to preserve those portraits by which it is now the fashion to
mulct him of his far larger dues.
Of his mysticism, of the symbolism in which his Journal Intime is
written in his own firm cipher, this little book is not the place to
speak; though for those who have once come to know the true Holbein
these have a spell, a stern, inexhaustible enchantment all their own.
But study the few fortunate survivals of his imaginative works,
study even more the wrecks and skeletons of his loftier conceptions,
and ask yourself if it could be by only a quick eye and a clever hand
(and he had both, assuredly) that Holbein caught up the dying ember of
the Van Eycks' torch and fanned it by his originality, his fancy, his
winged realism, until its light lit up the dim ways of Man with a
clairvoyance far beyond theirs. This eye, this mind, flung its gleaming
penetration into every covert of the soul and deep, deep, deep into the
most shrouded, the most shuddering secrets of Mortality.
Was it by virtue of a mere portrait-painter's powers that the son of
the Augsburg Bohemian came to lay his finger upon the very core and
composition of perhaps the haughtiest, the subtlest, the most dread
despot since the Cæsars? Henry VIII. and Fisher; the Laïs Corinthiaca,
the Duchess of Milan, his brooding wife; dancing children, and dancing
Death; Christ on the Cross, Christ in the Grave, Christ Arisen; lambs
in the fields, woods and hills, gaping peasants, wild battle;put them
side by side, the poor ghosts of them left to us, and compute the range
of artthe majestic range that framed them all.
Let us be just. Let us forget for a moment the chirp of the family
housekeeper over her gods. Let us gather up the broken fragments that
are more than the meal, and humbly own the Miracle that created them.
It is idle to argue with the intelligence that can see a want of
imagination in Holbein. But we can find proof and to spare that it is
not so; that his so-called limitationsapart from method, which is a
matter of Epochare due to a creed we may or may not agree with, but
surely must respect. The creed that Beauty is the framework, the
ornament, rather than the substance of things; the pleasure, not the
purpose of this mortal; and that the sweetest flower that blows is
but an exquisite moment of transfigured clay.
He smells the mould above the rose; yet how he draws the rose! The
brazen arrogance of pomp, the pearl on a woman's neck, the shimmer of a
breaking bubble, the wrinkles in a baby's foot, the beauty of life, the
pathos of life, the irony and the lust of life,he has painted them
all, as he saw them all, in the phantasmagoric Procession of Being
betwixt garret and throne.
He has painted each, too, with that genius for seizing the essential
quality which is the thing, that never forsook him from Augsburg
to Saint Andrew's Undershaft; that singular, vivid, original genius
which can well afford to let his grave be forgotten, whose works build
for him, as Hans Holbein
One of the few, the immortal names
That were not born to die.
1: The name used thus, without further identification, is to be
throughout these pages to mean Hans Holbein the Younger.
2: Variously written Meyer, Meier, Mejer, Meiger, or Megger. Bär is
written Ber, or Berin.
3: I am deeply indebted to the personal kindness and trouble of Sir
Martin Gosselin, K.C.M.G., British Minister at the Court of
for greatly facilitating my own study of this interesting picture.
4: I am indebted to the personal kindness of the discoverer's son,
Direktor Zetter-Collin of the Solothurn Museum, for these details.
the whole story, as well as Herr Zetter-Collin's contributions to
history of the work, should be read in his own absorbingly
monograph:Die Zetter'sche Madonna von Solothurn. (...) Ihre
Geschichte, etc. 1902.
Die Liebe zu Gott Heist charite.
Wer Liebe hat der Tragt kein Hass.
A CATALOGUE OF THE PRINCIPAL EXISTING WORKS OF HANS HOLBEIN THE
ARRANGED, SO FAR AS CAN BE KNOWN, IN CHRONOLOGICAL SEQUENCE
** signifiesSuperlative qualities.
* signifiesOf some particular importance.
? signifiesAuthorities differ. Held by some (and by the
to have been, in its original condition, the work
Holbein's own hand.
EARLIEST INDIVIDUAL WORKS (BEFORE GOING TO BASEL)
? St. Elizabeth of Hungary and St. Barbara. Oils. (Wings of the St.
Sebastian altar-piece.) Munich Gallery.
Virgin and Child. Oils. Basel Museum. (Earliest signed work
FIRST BASEL PERIOD
(1515, 1516, 1519-1526)
Illustrations to Erasmus's Praise of Folly.
Eighty-two pen-and-ink sketches on the margins.
Original copy, Basel Museum.
Portrait of an unknown young man.
Oils. Grand-Ducal Museum, Darmstadt.
Jacob Meyer zum Hasen and his second wife, Dorothea
[Plates 4 and 5.] Oils. Basel Museum.
Bonifacius Amerbach. [Plate 6.] Oils. Basel Museum.
Portrait of himself. [Frontispiece.] Coloured Chalks. Basel
* Studies from Nature. (A bat outspread and a lamb.)
Drawings in water-colour and silver-point. Basel Museum.
Designs for armorial windows. (More especially those
with Landsknechte and one with three peasants gossiping.)
Washed Drawings. Basel Museum and Print Cabinet, Berlin.
Landsknechte in a hand-to-hand fight. [Plate 7.]
Washed Drawing. Basel Museum. Others in various collections.
Design for the wings of an organ-case.
Washed Drawings. Basel Museum.
Head of St. John the Evangelist.
Oils. Basel Museum.
The Last Supper. (On wood; ruined fragment.)
Oils. Basel Museum.
The Nativity [Plate 8.] and The Adoration. Oils.
Freiburg Cathedral. (Wings of a lost altar-piece.)
Holy Family. Washed Drawing. Basel Museum.
(Also other drawings of the Virgin and Child.)
The Passion. Eight-panelled altar-piece. [Plate 9.]
Oils. Basel Museum. (Utterly ruined by over-painting.)
* The Passion. A series of ten designs for glass-painting.
Washed Drawings. Basel Museum.
(A set of seven reversed impressions in the British Museum.)
The Man of Sorrows and the Mater Dolorosa.
Oils, in tones of brown. Basel Museum.
Christ borne to the ground by the weight of the cross.
A Washed Drawing and a * Woodcut (unique impression).
* Christ in the grave. [Plate 10.]
Oils. Basel Museum.
? The risen Christ and Mary Magdalen at the sepulchre. [Plate 11.]
Oils. Hampton Court Gallery. (Very much injured.)
St. George. Oils. Kunsthalle, Karlsruhe.
St. Ursula. Oils. Kunsthalle, Karlsruhe.
? Portrait of a young girl. [Plate 13.]
Drawing in chalk and silver-point. Jabach Collection. The
** The Solothurn Madonna. [Plate 12.]
Oils. Solothurn Museum. (Die Zetter'sche Madonna von
of which the remarkable history is given in the text; together
with the evident relationship of Plate 13 and the hypothesis of
the present writer in that connection.)
** Portrait of Erasmus. [Plate 14.]
Oils. The Louvre.
A Citizen's Wife, and others, in the dress of the time.
Washed Drawings. Basel Museum.
The Table of Cebes. Border for title-page.
Woodcut. Royal Print Cabinet, Berlin.
St. Peter and St. Paul; on the title-page of Adam Petri's
reprint of Luther's translation of the New Testament.
Alphabet of The Dance of Death. Woodcuts.
Proof-impressions in the Basel Museum, the British Museum,
and the Dresden Royal Collection.
Bible Pictures: illustrating Old Testament. Woodcuts.
** Images of Death. [Two shown at Plates 14 and 15.]
Proof-impressions, some sets incomplete, in the Basel Museum,
British Museum and the National Print Collections of Paris,
Vienna, Berlin, Dresden, Karlsruhe, and the Bodleian Library.
(This is the immortal series of Woodcuts, often called
The Dance of Death, done for the Trechsel Brothers of Lyons,
but not published there until many years later.)
Dorothea Offenburg as the Goddess of Love. [Plate 16.]
Oils. Basel Museum.
The above as Laïs Corinthiaca.
Oils. Basel Museum.
** The Meyer Madonna. [Plates 18 and 19.]
Oils. Grand-Ducal Collection, Darmstadt (superbly restored);
and ?Dresden Gallery. (Notwithstanding the many and eminent
authorities who hold this to be a copy, there still remain
a sufficiency of no less eminent authorities to warrant the
present writer in her unshaken opinion that, at any rate in
its first estate and in the main, this Dresden versionrevered
for more than one century as such by the highest
the creation of Holbein's own hand.)
FIRST LONDON PERIOD (1526-1528)
Portrait of Sir Thomas More.
Oils. Mr. Huth's Collection.
Chalk Drawing at Windsor. [Plate 20.]
(Also a drawing of Sir John More, father of the above.)
** John Fisher, Bishop of Rochester. [Plate 21.]
Chalk Drawing. Windsor Castle. (Another in the British Museum.)
Oils. The Louvre, and Lambeth Palace.
? John Stokesley, Bishop of London.
Oils. Windsor Castle.
Sir Henry Guildford. [Plate 22.]
Oils. Windsor Castle.
Oils. Mr. Frewen's Collection.
Sir Thomas Godsalve and his son John.
Oils. Dresden Gallery.
Chalk Drawing of Sir John Godsalve.
Nicholas Kratzer, Astronomer Royal to King Henry VIII. [Plate
Oils. The Louvre.
Sir Henry Wyat. Oils. The Louvre.
Sir Bryan Tuke, Treasurer of the Household to King Henry VIII.
Oils. Munich Gallery. [Plate 24.]
Also at Grosvenor House. (As stated in the text, the writer
that the portraits of Sir Bryan Tuke should properly be classed
with those of a later period. But they are given here in
with opinions which obtain at present.)
LAST BASEL PERIOD (1528-1531)
** Portrait group of Holbein's wife, Elsbeth, and his two eldest
[Plate 25.] Oils, on paper.
Basel Museum. (Outline hard from having been cut out and
King Rehoboam replying to his people, and ** Samuel denouncing
Saul. [Plate 26.]
Two Washed Drawings. Basel Museum. (These are the designs for
back wall of the Basel Council Chamber.)
Portrait of an English Lady (unknown).
Chalk Drawing. Basel Museum.
** Portrait of an unknown young man in a broad-brimmed hat.
Chalk Drawing. Basel Museum.
(This is one of the most beautiful of Holbein's portrait
is a soft, yet virile, witchery about it which haunts the
Round Portrait of Erasmus. (Bust, 3/4 view.)
Oils. Basel Museum.
Designs for dagger-sheaths and other goldsmith's work.
Washed Drawings. Basel Museum, British Museum, etc.
(More especially the Dance of Death; a chef-d'oeuvre.)
A ship making sail.
Washed Drawing. Städel Institut. Frankfurt.
LAST PERIOD; LONDON (1531-43)
** Portrait of Jörg Gyze. [Plate 27.]
Oils. Berlin Gallery.
Portrait of an unknown man.
Oils. Schönborn Gallery, Vienna.
Johann or Hans of Antwerp.
Oils. Windsor Castle. (Holbein's friend and executor.)
Derich Tybis of Duisburg.
Oils. Imperial Gallery, Vienna.
Oils. Munich Gallery, and Windsor Castle.
Oils. Prado Gallery, Madrid.
The Triumph of Riches.
Drawing. The Louvre.
(Copies of this and the pendant design, The Triumph of Poverty,
in the British Museum and in the Collection of Lady Eastlake.)
The Queen of Sheba before Solomon.
Washed Drawing, heightened with gold and colours. Windsor
Robert Cheseman, with falcon.
Oils. Hague Gallery.
* The Ambassadors. [Plate 28.]
Oils. National Gallery.
(A double portrait, life size. Formerly supposed to be Sir
Wyatt and a scholar; now officially held to be Jean de
Bailli de Troyes, and George de Selve, Bishop of Lavaur. As
in the text, the present writer differs from any identification
either figure yet published, but is not prepared to put forward
own views for the present.)
Nicholas Bourbon de Vandoeuvre, scholar and poet.
Chalk Drawing. Windsor Castle.
(An intimate friend of Holbein, Kratzer, and their circle.
identified as the man in the scholar's gown, in The
and so given by Mr. Lionel Cust, in the Dictionary of
Biography, in his article upon Holbein.)
**The Morett Portrait. [Plate 29.]
Oils. Dresden Gallery.
(Long believed to be a triumph of Leonardo da Vinci's art, and
portrait of Ludovico Sforza, Il Moro. At one time held to be
Brandon, Duke of Suffolk. Afterwards established and
Hubert Morett, goldsmith to King Henry VIII. Following M.
suggestion, however, it is now supposed to be the portrait of
Solier, Sieur de Morette. But as to this the last word may yet
to be said. The drawing which the majority of authorities hold
the study for this painting now hangs near it.)
** Miniature portrait of Henry Brandon, son of the Duke of Suffolk.
Title-page used in Coverdale's Bible. Woodcut.
Q. Jane Seymour. [Plate 30.]
Oils. Imperial Gallery, Vienna.
** Portrait of Erasmus, full length, in scholar's robes, with his
on the head of the god Terminus. Woodcut.
Frontispiece to Hieronymus Froben's edition of Erasmus's
Works, published in 1540.
(Commonly known as Erasmus in a surround, or niche.)
Fragment of the Cartoon [Plate 31] used for the four royal
in the wall-painting at Whitehall. The fragment shows only the
of King Henry VIII. and his father. Hardwick Hall.
(Remigius van Leemput's copy of the wall-painting shows that the
position of the King's head was changed, in the completed work,
full-face view so familiar in the oil-painting at Windsor
latter is one of the many copies of Holbein's original portrait
Henry VIII. which long passed muster as genuine Holbeins.)
** Portrait study of the face of King Henry VIII. [Plate 32.]
Chalk Drawing. Royal Print Cabinet, Munich.
(Probably the Life-study for the Whitehall painting. If nothing
else remained, this mask alone would incontestably rank Holbein
among the Masters of all time. To the writer's thinking, at any
rate, it stands among the very few works of art which it would
difficult to match, and impossible to surpass in its own
** Design for the Jane Seymour Cup. [Plate 33.]
** Christina of Denmark, Duchess of Milan. [Plate 34.]
Oils. National Gallery; lent from Arundel Castle.
Edward VI., when infant Prince of Wales.
Oils. Hanover Gallery, and Lord Yarborough's Collection.
Anne of Cleves. [Plate 35.]
Oils on Vellum. The Louvre.
Thomas Howard, third Duke of Norfolk. [Plate 36.]
Oils. Windsor Castle, and Arundel Castle.
Catherine Howard. [Plate 37.]
Chalk Drawing. Windsor Castle.
(The Miniature at Windsor Castle, formerly said to be Holbein's
portrait of Catherine Parr, is now said to be Catherine Howard.
so, it is somewhat difficult to reconcile it with the drawing,
which latter seems much more in keeping with the descriptions of
Title-page used in Cranmer's Bible. Woodcut.
(This is the title-page from which Cromwell's Arms are erased in
the second edition.)
Sir Nicholas Carew.
Oils. Dalkeith Palace. Chalk Drawing. Basel Museum.
Simon George of Cornwall.
Oils. Städel Institut, Frankfurt.
Miniature portrait of Charles Brandon, son of the Duke of
Oils. Imperial Gallery, Vienna.
Also a fine portrait of an unknown man.
Oils. Same Gallery.
Sir Richard Southwell.
Oils. Uffizi Gallery, Florence. Chalk Drawing. Windsor Castle.
Oils. Hampton Court Gallery.
Oils. De la Rosière Collection, Paris. Chalk Drawing. Windsor
Sir John Russell.
Oils. Woburn Abbey. Chalk Drawing. Windsor Castle.
Three portraits; men unknown.
Oils. Berlin Gallery.
Designs for jewelry, ornamental panels, clocks, chimney-piece,
etc., etc. Washed Drawings. British Museum, Basel Museum, etc.
Many fine portraits of which no versions in oils are known.
Chalk Drawings. Windsor Castle.
Among these one of Edward VI. as boy Prince of Wales, the
Suffolk, Sir Thomas Wyatt, etc., etc.
Dr. John Chamber, or Chambers.
Oils. Imperial Gallery, Vienna.
Also many other oil-portraits, more or less genuine, in various
The Literature of Holbein's Life, much more of his Works, is far
extensive to admit of a Bibliography in a volume of this sort. But
following List will be found to contain (or themselves refer the
to) all that is of essential importance to even the most complete
of this Master.
Carel van Mander, Het Schilder-Boeck, etc., 1604.
The above translated into French, and admirably edited by
M. Henri Hyman. 2 tom., 1884.
Alfred Woltmann, Holbein und seine Zeit. Zweite umgearbeitete
Auflage, 1874. 2 Bde.
There is an English translation of the First Edition of 1871, by
F. E. Bunnètt; but unfortunately its views on many vital points
reversed by Woltmann himself in his latest edition.
R. N. Wornum, Some Account of the Life and Works of Hans Holbein, 1867.
Corrected in many respects by the author in a monograph on
The Meier Madonna, 1891.
Paul Mantz, Hans Holbein. Paris, 1879.
H. Knackfuss, Holbein. Leipzig, 1899.
English translation of the above by Mr. Campbell Dodgson.
Eduard His, Die Basler Archive über Hans Holbein den
Jungern. In Zahn's Jahrbücher für Kunstwissenschaft,
Francis Douce, The Dance of Death, 1833.
J. R. Smith, Holbein's Dance of Death, 1849.
(Especially fine reproductions.)
H. N. Humphreys, Holbein's Dance of Death, 1868.
G. Th. Fechner, Über die Deutungsfrage der Holbein'schen
Die älteste historische Quelle über die Holbein'sche Madonna.
Both in Archiv für die zeichnenden Künste, 1866, I., 4.
These give all the known facts of the history of the Meyer
of Darmstadt and Dresden.
S. Larpent, Sur le portrait de Morett. Christiania, 1881.
Mary F. S. Hervey, Holbein's Ambassadors, 1900.
This volume also embodies, and gives the references to, the
identifications of Professor Sidney Colvin, and the suggested
identifications of Mr. C. L. Eastlake; as well as to the
concerning the hymn-book by Mr. Barclay Squire.
W. F. Dickes, Holbein's Ambassadors Unriddled, 1903.
F. A. Zetter-Collin, Die Zetter'sche Madonna von Solothurn.
Ihre Geschichte aus Originalquellen, etc.
In Festschrift des Kunst-Vereins der Stadt Solothurn,
Artur Seeman, Der Brunnen des Lebens, von H. Holbein.
In Zeitschrift für bildende Kunst. Mai, 1903.
With a superb illustration in colour.
Adoration, painting, 71
Ambassadors, The, painting, 145-9, 193
Amerbach, Basilius, 66
Bonifacius, 25, 46-50, 99, 125
Johann, 48, 61
Anne, of Cleves, Queen, 171-4
Antwerp, Johann or Hans of, 183
Arundel, Henry Fitzalan, Earl of, 184
Thomas Howard, Earl of, 151
William Fitzalan, Earl of, 115
Augsburg, 10, 11, 16
Bär, Hans, 24, 25
Magdalena, first wife of Meyer zum Hasen, 31
Barber-Surgeons, Guild of, 180
Basel, description of, 58-64
decoration of the Rathhaus by Holbein, 83-5, 132, 135, 170
decoration of the Lällenkönig by Holbein, 135
offers of an annuity to Holbein, 145, 168, 169, 176, 177
Basel, banquet to Holbein, 168
Beatus Rhenanus, 68
Bible, translations before the Reformation, 23, 24
Boleyn, Anne, Queen, 150, 151
Bourbon, Nicholas, 156, 157, 193
Burgkmair, Hans, 11
Butts, Sir William, 180
Cellini, Benvenuto, 169-70
Chamber, John, 180
Cheseman, Robert, 150
Christ in the Grave, painting, 78-80
Christ in Holbein's Art, 77-83
Christina, Duchess of Milan, 144, 164-7
Colet, John, Dean of St. Paul's, 22, 137
Cromwell, Thomas, Earl of Essex, 152
Dance of Death, 100-103
Darmstadt, Meyer-Madonna at, 108-13
David, Gerard, 53
David, Jerome, 169
Diesbach, Nicholas von, 89, 90
Dinteville, Jean de, 149
Dresden, Meyer-Madonna at, 108-13
Dürer, Albrecht, 22
Edward VI., King, 163, 170
Elizabeth of York, Queen, 161
Erasmus, Desiderius, 17-21, 125, 137, 158
Portraits of, 98, 99, 159
Eyck, H. and J. van, 15, 185
Fäsch, Remigius, 111
Fisher, John, Bishop of Rochester, 118
Fountain of Life, painting, 53, 54
Froben, Hieronymus, 158
Froben, Johann, 15, 34, 35, 63, 64, 68, 98
Gardiner, Stephen, Bishop of Winchester, 175
Gerster, Hans, 89, 90
Glass-painting, designs for, 54, 55
Goddess of Love, painting, 104
Gold-work, designs for, 163
Graf, Urs, 65, 66
Guildford, Sir Henry, 119-21
Gyze, Georg, 142-43
Hayes, Cornelius, 170
Henry VII., King, portrait, 161
Henry VIII., King, portrait, 160-63, 195
New Year present to Holbein, 170
Henry, Prince of Wales, 151
Hertenstein, Jacob von, 43
Holbein, Ambrose, 10, 12, 13, 17
Elsbeth, 58, 94-7, 104, 105, 107, 126-9, 177-82
Hans, the Elder, 9, 10, 12, 13, 16, 91
the Younger, birth (1497), 16
at Basel (1515-17), 24
at Lucerne (1517-18), 41, 42
a citizen of Basel (1519-26), 58-113
wife and children, 104-7, 124, 129-31, 169, 170, 182
first visit to England (1526-8), 115-25
last years in Basel (1528-31), 125-36
purchase of Basel House (1528), 125, 126
final return to London (1531), 136
mention of, by Nicholas Bourbon, 157
official income, 167
will and death, 180-83
place of interment, 184
illegitimate children, 183
as a designer and engraver, 35-7
greatness of, 184-7
religious ideals and sympathies, 21-4, 77-83
Künegoldt, wife of Andreas Syff, 129-31
Philip, son of Hans the Younger, 86, 94, 129, 169, 170
Philip, grandson of Hans the Younger, 130
Sigmund, 12, 177
Howard, Catherine, Queen, 175
Thomas, Duke of Norfolk, 175
Hutten, Ulrich von, 71
Hyss, Cornelius, 157
Jane Seymour Cup, 163
Kratzer, Nicholas, 121, 122, 157
Laïs Corinthiaca, painting, 105, 106
Landsknechte, drawings, 57, 58
Last Supper, paintings, 50-52
Leemput, Remi von, 160
Leonardo da Vinci, 40, 50
Lisbon, painting, the Fountain of Life at, 53, 54
Lucerne, 41, 42
Lützelburger, Hans, 36, 98
Lystrius, Gerard, 68
Mantegna, Andrea, 40, 41, 50
Mary Magdalen at the Sepulchre, painting, 80-83
Merian, family of, at Frankfurt, 131
Meyer, Anna, 110, 111
Dorothea, née Kannegiesser, 31-4, 109
Jacob zum Hasen, 31-4, 75, 89, 107
Jacob zum Hirten, 132, 133
Magdalena, née Bär, 31
Meyer-Madonna (Darmstadt and Dresden), 108-13
Monasticism and Art, 5-8
More, Sir Thomas, 112, 114-17, 137
Morett, Hubert, or Morette, Charles de Solier, portrait, 144, 154,
Nativity, paintings, 71-4
Oberriedt, Hans, 72, 75
Oporinus, Joannes, 67, 68
Parr, Catherine, 176, 179
Passion, eight-panelled altar-piece, 75-77
drawings, 77, 78
Plague (in 1543), 182
Saint Andrew Undershaft, London, 178, 183, 184
Saint Catharine Cree, London, 184
Schmidt, Franz, 177, 182
Schoolmaster's Sign-board, paintings, 25, 26
Selve, Georges de, Bishop of Lavaur, 149
Seymour, Jane, Queen, 157, 158, 161, 163, 164
Sheba, Queen of, visiting Solomon, drawing, 155
Solier, Charles de, Seigneur de Morette, 154
Solothurn Madonna, painting and its history, 86-97
Steelyard, the, London, 138-42
Stokesley, John, Bishop of London, 119
Sultz, Dorothea von, née Offenburg, 104-6
Title-pages, woodcuts, 65, 98, 115, 159
Triumph of Riches and of Poverty, drawings, 150
Tuke, Sir Bryan, 122, 123
Utopia, woodcut title-page, 115
Virgin and Child, drawings, 55
paintings by Holbein, 86-97, 108-13
Warham, William, Archbishop of Canterbury, 118, 119, 137
Wilhelm Meister, School of, 8
Windsor, portrait, drawings at, 117
Zetter, Madonna at Solothurn, 86-97