Hans Holbein the Younger was an all-round German Renaissance artist. Painter, draughtsman and book illustrator. Designer of furniture and costumes. Creator of stained windows.
Son of the late-Gothic painter Hans Holbein the Elder. Born in Augsburg. With his older brother Ambrosius Hans settles in the trading town of Basel around 1514 making woodcuts for book illustrations, including those for Luther's bible translation. Holbein also paints portraits of prominent citizens. Around 1517 he travels to Italy. Back in Basel he paints the portraits of the humanists Amerbach and Erasmus and illustrates Erasmus' In Praise of Folly with pen drawings. In 1520 Holbein marries Elsbeth Schmid (the widow Binzenstock), who bears him four children.
In 1519 Holbein was admitted to the painters' guild of Basel. Between 1519 and 1526 he decorated many buildings there, including the Town Hall, and painted the Passion Scenes and the celebrated Dead Christ (both in Basel), the altarpiece in Solothurn of the Madonna with St. Ursus and a Bishop Saint, and the famous Madonna of Burgomaster Meyer altarpiece (Darmstadt). Also of this period are several of his numerous portraits of Erasmus and a portrait of Boniface Amerbach (Basel). In these works the artist, now mature, shows his full genius without relinquishing the polished surface and enameled color of the earlier paintings. He reveals Italian influence in his larger conception and monumental composition and in the design and idealism of the characterization. A bold and subtle line, both precise and flowing, distinguishes these works.
From 1526 to 1528, Holbein was in England, where he painted a fine group of portraits, including those of Sir Thomas More (Frick Coll., New York City) and Sir Henry Guildford (Windsor Castle) and his wife (City Art Mus., St. Louis). After another residence (1528–32) in Basel, where he executed a second group of frescoes for the Town Hall (both series later destroyed), he settled in England and worked on portraits and wall paintings. Among the many famous portraits of these last years are those of Christine of Denmark and The French Ambassadors (both: National Gall., London). In 1536 he became court painter to Henry VIII and made numerous portraits and drawings of the king and his wives. His own wife and children, of whom there is a beautiful group portrait (Basel Mus.), remained in Basel. At 46 Holbein died of the plague in London.
In addition to his paintings, Hans Holbein the younger, left to the world magnificent preliminary portrait drawings in which he combined chalk, silverpoint, pen and ink, and other media. Today they are prized as highly as his paintings and may constitute a freer expression of his gift for exquisite characterization. In the beautiful simplicity of their design and in the subtle suggestion of both form and character, they are unsurpassed. Also famous are his woodcuts, which include the Dance of Death series and illustrations for Luther's Bible.
Many European museums possess examples of his paintings. At Windsor Castle are 80 Holbein portrait drawings. In the United States the Metropolitan Museum has several portraits; the Frick Collection, New York City, has two; and the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., has two.