Famed as the court painter of King Henry VIII, Hans Holbein the Younger was one of the greatest portrait painters of the sixteenth century.

Born in Augsburg, in southern Germany, in 1497-98, Holbein was the son of painter and draughtsman Hans Holbein the Elder. Hans, like his brother Ambrosius, followed the family trade which he apparently learnt under the tutelage of his father and uncle until breaking away to make his own mark.

National-GalleryJourneying with Ambrosius to Basel in what is now Switzerland, the two brothers became apprenticed to the city’s leading painter Hans Herbster. In 1517, Holbein went with father to Lucerne where they worked painting murals for a leading merchant. It is thought while there, that he visited northern Italy where he studied Italian frescos.

Returning to Basel in 1519, he quickly re-established his business there, becoming a member of the artists’ guild, and married Elsbeth Schmid, their first son arriving in the first year of their marriage (the couple apparently had four children, two of whom are depicted in a portrait with his wife he painted in the late 1520s).

He was soon completing numerous major projects for the city – including painting internal murals for the Town Hall’s council chamber – and was also involved in creating illustrations for books – the most famous being the series of images known as the Dance of Death – and painting portraits, including his first portraits of the Renaissance scholar, Erasmus. It was these and other portraits that ensured his fame across Europe.

The decline in the production of religious art, thanks to the Reformation which was then sweeping over the continent, apparently led Holbein to look further afield for work and, having first gone to France, in 1526 he went to England.

There he was welcomed by Sir Thomas More, then a key figure in the regime of King Henry VIII, who soon found him some commissions. His works during this period included portraits of More, William Warham, Archbishop of Canterbury, astronomer Nicholas Kratzer and courtiers like Sir Henry Guildford.

He returned to Basel a wealthy and successful man in 1528 and remained there for four years before once again leaving his family and heading to England, this time finding favour with the Boleyn family and Thomas Cromwell.

It was early during this period – he remained in England until his death in 1543 – that he painted portraits of Hanseatic League merchants of the Steelyard (see our earlier post here) as well as The Ambassadors (see our earlier post here).

In 1536, he was employed as painter to King Henry VIII and the following year he painted what is arguably his most famous image – that of King Henry VIII in all his glory in the image known as the Whitehall Mural which pictured the king with his the wife, Queen Jane Seymour, his father, King Henry VII and his mother, Queen Elizabeth of York (the image was lost in the fire which destroyed Whitehall Palace in 1698 but copies were made and a copy is now at Hampton Court Palace).

King Henry VIII was to be his subject on numerous occasions as were other members of the Royal Family, courtiers and prospective wives including, famously, a portrait of Anne of Cleves which may have oversold her beauty to the king who was unimpressed with her in person (there is apparently no evidence the king blamed Holbein himself for this).

While he had successfully navigated his way past the downfall of Sir Thomas More and then the Boleyn family, the fall of Sir Thomas Cromwell did cause significant damage to his standing. Nonetheless he retained his official position at court and it was during this time that he painted some of his finest miniatures including those of the sons of Henry VIII’s friend, Charles Brandon, 1st Duke of Suffolk.

It is believed Holbein may have returned to visit his family in late 1540 before returning to London where he died sometime in October or November, 1543, having made his will on 7th October at his home in Aldgate (plague has been suggested as the cause of his death). The site of his grave is unknown.

Holbein’s legacy is such that the portraits he created in his two stints in London have become a key component in how we view Tudor England – and in particular, the Tudor court – today.

His works can be seen in key locations across London including the National Gallery (pictured above), the National Portrait Gallery (where his bust is one of a series of artists on the exterior) and Hampton Court Palace.

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ThomasCromwellA new display exploring the demand for copies and remakes of portraits originally created by Tudor court painter Hans Holbein the Younger has opened at the National Portrait Gallery. Hans Holbein Re-made features a selection of copies of Holbein’s works from the gallery’s collection including portraits of William Warham, John Fisher, Sir Thomas More and Sir Richard Southwell, all of which have undergone new technical analysis as part of the gallery’s Making Art in Tudor Britain project. The research reveals new details about how and when the paintings were made and the techniques used. The display also includes a portrait of Thomas Cromwell, Earl of Essex – thought to be one of the first miniatures Holbein painted alongside a digital screen which enables this work of Holbein’s to be compared with that of another artist working in his studio. In Room 3. Runs until 31st August. Admission is free. For more, see www.npg.org.uk. PICTURE: Thomas Cromwell, Earl of Essex, after Hans Holbein the Younger, early 17th century (1533-1534). © National Portrait Gallery, London.

This year marks the 350th anniversary of King Charles II’s granting of a Royal Charter to The Worshipful Company of Needlemakers and to commemorate the occasion, the Guildhall Library is hosting an exhibition of some of the company’s treasures and history. Among the displays are tools used in 19th and 20th centuries, 18th century silverware, and the Company Arms (gifted to it in 1995) as well as examples of their craft from both early and recent periods. The exhibition closes on 29th March, so you’ll have to be quick. Admission is free. For more, see www.cityoflondon.gov.uk/things-to-do/visiting-the-city/archives-and-city-history/guildhall-library/exhibitions/Pages/The-Worshipful-Company-of-Needlemakers.aspx

A new display of revolutionary sixteenth century woodcuts opens at the Royal Academy of Arts on Saturday. Renaissance  Impressions: Chiaroscuro woodcuts from the Collections of Georg Baselitz and the Albertina, Vienna, looks at the development of the printing technique of the chiaroscuro woodcut and presents more than 100 rare prints by artists from Germany, Italy and The Netherlands which have come from the collection of the Albertina Museum in Vienna and the personal collection of Honorary Royal Academician Georg Baselitz. The new technique – the first known example of which is widely believed to have been created by Hans Burgkmair the Elder with his 1508 depiction of Emperor Maximilian on Horseback – involved supplementing the key ‘black line block’ with one or several ‘tone blocks’ with chiaroscuro woodcuts the first colour woodcuts to make dramatic use of light and shadow to suggest form, volume and depth. Runs until 8th June in the Sackler Wing of Galleries. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.royalacademy.org.uk.

While the designation of London’s oldest public library depends on your definition, for the purposes of this article we’re awarding the title to the Guildhall Library.

Its origins go back to about 1425 when town clerk John Carpenter and John Coventry founded a library – believed to initially consist of theological books for students, according to the terms of the will of former Lord Mayor, Richard (Dick) Whittington (for more on him, see our previous post here).

Guildhall2Housed in Guildhall (pictured above), this library apparently came to an end in the mid-1500s when Edward Seymour, the Duke of Somerset and Lord Protector for the young King Edward VI, apparently had the entire collection loaded onto carts and taken to Somerset House. They were not returned and only one of the library’s original texts, a 13th century metrical Latin version of the Bible, is in the library today.

Some 300 years passed until the library was re-established by the City of London Corporation. Reopened in  1828, it was initially reserved for members of the Corporation but the membership was soon expanded to include”literary men”.

By the 1870s, when the collection included some 60,000 books related to London, the library moved into a new purpose-built building, located to the east of Guildhall. Designed by City architect Horace Jones, it opened to the public in 1873.

The library lost some 25,000 books during World War II when some of the library’s storerooms were destroyed and after the war, it was decided to build a new library. It opened in 1974 in the west wing of the Guildhall where it remains (entered via Aldermanbury).

Today, the 200,000 item collection includes books, pamphlets, periodicals including the complete London Gazette from 1665 to the present, trade directories and poll books as well as the archive collections such as those of the livery companies, the Stock Exchange and St Paul’s Cathedral and special collections related to the likes of Samuel Pepys, Sir Thomas More, and the Charles Lamb Society.

The library also holds an ongoing series of exhibitions.

Where: Guildhall Library, Aldermanbury; WHEN: 9.30am to 5pm, Monday to Saturday; COST: Entry is free and no membership of registration is required but ID may be required to access rarer books; WEBSITE: www.cityoflondon.gov.uk/things-to-do/visiting-the-city/archives-and-city-history/guildhall-library/Pages/default.aspx.

Crosby-HallIn honour of the stunning news this week that a skeleton found under a Leicester carpark last year is indeed that of the King Richard III, here’s a picture of the front of Crosby Hall, London home to the king when he was still merely the Duke of Gloucester.

Now located in Cheyne Walk, Chelsea, the Grade II* hall was previously located in Bishopsgate and was the great hall of the 15th century property Crosby Place. As well as being occupied by Richard who rented it from the owner in 1483, a wool merchant named Sir John Crosby (in fact, it also appears in a scene of William Shakespeare’s play, Richard III), the property – built between 1466-75 – was also, from 1523-24, the home of Sir Thomas More, the ill-fated sixteenth century chancellor of King Henry VIII.

The hall was moved piece-by-piece to Chelsea in 1910 when it was threatened with demolition and now stands on land where there was once an orchard owned by Sir Thomas. It served as a dining hall for the British Federation of University Women but is now in private ownership.

The body was confirmed as being, “beyond reasonable doubt”, that of King Richard III, England’s last Plantagenet king, at an extraordinary press conference at the University of Leicester yesterday. Bent by severe scoliosis of the spine, the skeleton’s back had been further twisted to fit into the hole dug for it near the high altar at the church of Grey Friars which had previously stood on the site. Work has now begun a new tomb for the king at nearby Leicester Cathedral.

King Richard III was killed at the Battle of Bosworth on 22nd August, 1485, and was the last English king to die in battle. The researchers found the body was likely to have been killed by one of two fatal wounds – one in which the base of his skull had been sliced off with a weapon believed to be a bladed weapon like a halberd and another from a sword which penetrated his brain. The evidence showed the body had been significantly mutilated after death with a total of 10 wounds on the skeleton.

While radiocarbon dating placed the body in the right time frame and the wounds on the body and burial site were consistent with historical evidence, the key to the identification was the matching of the bones’ DNA with that of a Canadian man, Michael Ibsen, a direct descendant of the king’s sister, Anne of York.

For more on the amazing find, see www.le.ac.uk/richardiii/.