These are the 12 most famous paintings by Hans Holbein the Younger, who was one of the most successful portraitists of the 16th century and portrayed the nobility of the Tudor court during his time in England. He was a highly versatile and technically accomplished artist, taught by his father Hans Holbein the Elder. He worked in different media and designed jewelry and metalwork.
The Ambassadors (1533)
Also known as Double Portrait of Jean de Dinteville and Georges de Selve, The Ambassadors is one of the most famous paintings by Hans Holbein the Younger and also of the Northern Renaissance. The two depicted figures are Jean de Dinteville and Georges de Selve. This work is one of the earliest portraits that combine two full-length life-scale figures. On the left is de Dinteville, who was a French nobleman, painted whilst he was the French ambassador to London, and he probably was the commissioner.
And on the right is de Selve, a diplomat, his friend, and fellow countryman. The most interesting motif of this painting is located across the mosaic floor – derived from the medieval pavement in Westminster Abbey. An unusual shape is spreading between two figures. It is a skull, distorted so that its true form can only be perceived from the viewpoint at the edges of the panel. It is a symbol of de Dinteville’s life moto, Memento mori, or “Remember that you will die”.
Portrait of Anne of Cleves (1539)
Anne of Cleves was Queen of England and the fourth wife of King Henry VIII. But before her marriage, Holbein was sent to Düren to paint portraits of Anne and her younger sister Amalia, each of whom The King was considering marrying. Henry VIII required that the sisters had to be painted realistically, without enhancing their looks. Unlike his other wives, Anne of Cleves died of natural causes.
Portrait of Jane Seymour (1537)
Jane Seymour was Queen of England and the third wife of King Henry VIII from 1536 until her death the following year. She became queen after the execution of his second wife, but she died of postnatal complications after giving birth to the future King Edward VI. In this portrait, she is wearing a string of pearls and a pendant of precious stones around her neck. She was King’s favorite wife who gave him his long-awaited male heir to the throne.
Portrait of the Artist’s Family (1528)
The figures in this paper on wood painting are Holbein’s wife Elsbeth Binzenstock, their son Philipp and their daughter Katharina. The boy is painted from the side, while the mother is painted from the front and while she doesn’t seem to be gazing at anything specific, the boy is looking directly at something on the top right. The girl faces left and looks like she is grasping something with her left hand. The fact that the artist’s wife is wearing a dark blue cloth with a rosa scarf, which is similar to that of the Virgin Mary in his Solothurn Madonna painting, may indicate that this might be a depiction of Holbein’s own Holy Family.
Portrait of a Lady with a Squirrel and a Starling (1527–1558)
This painting depicts a demurely dressed woman sitting against a blue background and holding in her lap a squirrel on a chain nibbling a nut, while a starling is sitting on a grapevine behind her. The grape (vitis vinifera) is a Biblical motif and a symbol of wealth. The young woman is believed to be Anne Lovell, the wife of Sir Francis Lovell, a personal attendant to Henry VIII.
Portrait of Henry VIII (1536)
This painting is a lost work, destroyed by fire in 1698, depicting King Henry VIII. It was created as a part of a mural showing the Tudor dynasty at the Place of Whitehall in Westminster. The original mural featured four figures arranged around a marble plinth, the King, his wife Jane Seymour, and his parents Henry VII and Elizabeth of York. It might have been commissioned to celebrate the birth of Edward.
Portrait of the Merchant Georg Giese (1532)
Georg Giese was a prominent Hanseatic merchant. Holbein was commissioned to paint portraits of wealthy members of Hanseatic merchant families who were stationed in London’s Steelyard offices, and he painted a series of eight portraits of individual people. These merchants formed a fraternity of traders (Hanseatic League) so that they could control trade and remove trade restrictions.
Noli me tangere (1524–1526)
Noli me tangere meaning don’t touch me or touch me not, is a Latin version of the words spoken by Jesus to Mary Magdalene when she recognized him after his resurrection, according to John 20:17.
Portrait of Erasmus of Rotterdam (1523)
Erasmus of Rotterdam was a Dutch philosopher and Catholic theologian who is considered to be one of the greatest scholars of the northern Renaissance. Holbein painted Erasmus multiple times, and his paintings were often copied, so it is difficult to disentangle Holbein’s work from that of his copyists.
Charles de Solier, Sieur de Morette (1534)
Charles de Solier was a French soldier and diplomat as well as a long-serving gentilhomme de la chambre to the King of France, Francis I. He also acted as ambassador to England on multiple occasions. Holbein’s portraits of both middle-class and noble contemporaries influenced what has become the view of the face of the northern Renaissance.
Lais of Corinth (1526)
Lais of Corinth was a famous courtesan of ancient Greece. She lived during the Peloponnesian War and was said to be the most beautiful woman of her time. The model for Holbein’s portrait was either Magdalena Offenburg or her daughter Dorothea. It was assumed that either of the two may have been his mistress.
Portrait of Edward VI as a Child (1538)
This portrait of Henry VIII’s only legitimate son and desired heir to the throne appears to be given to the King on the New Year of 1539. The form of the painting and the long verse in Latin provided by the poet Richard Morison flatter the King. Holbein depicted baby prince as self-possessed, one hand holding a scepter and the other open in a gesture of blessing.
What famous paintings by Hans Holbein the Younger do you think we should add to this list? Comment below.