Hans Holbein: Truth in Painting


An artistic vision isn’t very valuable without someone to pay. A little less than five centuries ago, in February 1529, Hans Holbein watched the citizens of Basel occupy the church, hit the statues with a club, smash the cross, and throw altarpieces into the burning crematorium.that is Bildersturm — “The Storm of Painting,” one of the iconic riots against the religious image that swept Switzerland and Northern Europe during its decade — and among the many destroyed works of art, Holbain’s own Last Supper. There is a picture of. No matter what the German artist thinks about reform (the record is ambiguous, but he seems to have adopted soft Lutheranism), he says this radical mission will be bad news for the Swiss art market. You can see it.

Things are getting worse, and in 1532 Holbein leaves Basel for London. He lived there 10 years ago and apparently lived in Thomas More’s house. Now Moa is depressed, but Holbein has found a new customer among the wealthy German merchants who have their own special economic zone on the Thames. One of his first requests was a portrait of a Cologne merchant named Weddy on a glassy blue background. For Holbein, Weddy wears a beret of the same fabric as the heavy black cloak. His left hand holds a tan leather glove, and in his hand is a small signet ring with the coat of arms of his family. Three willow leaves are separated by a black chevron.

Holbein minimizes portraiture. There is no Eldite symbolism, rich environment, or decorative prosperity. But look at Weddy’s eyes. Her right eye (on the left side of the photo) has a large tick and her right eyebrow is slightly arched. In this new era of image politics, Holbein brought a new kind of painting. Enlarged eyes provide something that decoration and gold leaf leaves cannot achieve. This flat piece of wood is a mysterious sensation of an individual from this world, made in the image of God.

The portrait of a Londoner in the time of Henry VIII is Hans Holbein’s (1497 or 1498-1543) most famous achievement, at the heart of “Holbein: Character Capture” at the Morgan Library and Museum on Friday. It is located. The first major museum show in history for this international master. The show first started at the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles, but it looks quite different here. These paintings are rare, valuable and quite fragile. Some major loans were promised to New York or Los Angeles, but not both, but other Holbains couldn’t travel due to pandemic restrictions. (And Holbein knew about them: he survived the deadly Sweating Sickness of 1528-29 and may have died in the plague in 1543.)

Morgan got a portrait of Thomas More from The Frick Collection, while Los Angeles got a tougher portrait of Thomas Cromwell from Frick. Neither was seen among other Holbains for a century. The Fine Arts Museum Basel sent a small round portrait of Holbein’s immigrant companion Erasmus in the Swiss city, but not the larger Erasmus or the still shocking “corpse of Christ in the tomb”. The Louvre Museum in Paris, which owns the overly flattering portrait of Anne of Cleves that caused Henry’s miserable fourth marriage (January 6-9, 1540), eventually blocked everything. did. (A satisfying catalog edited by Getty’s Ann T. Woolett integrates the checklists of both shows with canceled loans and major fragile and immovable pieces.)

I think “Holbein: Capturing Characters” is maximizing today’s limits. The focus is on portraits, which line up Holbein’s personal photographs along with woodblock prints and medallion designs. Paintings and sculptures by Albrecht Durer, Jan Gossaert and other contemporaries. There are also Holbein’s sitter trinkets and rhyming signet rings, hat badges and other jewelry. There is also the first capitalized printed sheet of Holbain’s design. There, grinning skeletons dance around ABC. A wonderfully morbid “Alphabet of Death” that Morgan’s Gift Shop needs to edit for Art Goss greeting cards.

Holbain was born in Bavarian at the end of the 15th century. His father, uncle and brother were all painters. When he was a teenager, he moved to Basel. In Basel, humanists such as Erasmus, printer Johann Froben, and university president Bonifasius Amerbach have become one of Europe’s most capable intellectual centers.

Young Holbein soon became Basel’s leading painter, using relatively new oil paints to create compelling portraits from a blend of technical verisimilitude and human hints. For Erasmus, he designed the emblem based on the Roman border god Terminus and engraved the Latin motto “Concedonulli”. I will not give in to anyone.. A German merchant holds a math diagram in one hand, and near his elbow is a curled piece of paper with a line from Aeneid.

Holbein brought a fusion of technical accuracy and intellectual distinction to London and was appointed as the court painter of Henry VIII in 1536. The show has little official court art and no paintings of the king or his wife. And Holbein’s most famous work is too worth traveling from the National Gallery in London. Two Frenchmen in Henry’s court are his double portraits “Ambassadors” posing in a globe, a musical instrument, and a mysterious anamorphic skull.

However, the mysterious portrait of Simon George, a lesser-known aristocrat from Cornwall, demonstrates Holbein’s incredible ability to forge personal portraits through both physiognomy and symbols. The beautiful young man stands out from the same rich blue background as the German merchants, appearing in profile in a round frame, like the emperor of a Roman coin. (The hanging preparatory drawing shows how Holbein first captured George’s concave nose and narrowed gaze, which was later added to the symbol.)

His hat has a gold badge depicting the myths of Leda and the Swan, and his right hand has a bright red carnation. A sign of loyalty, maybe, or a cry of Mary’s tears on Via Dolorosa. This portrait, rented by Staedel in Frankfurt, has recently been cleaned. You need to get up close and personal with the amazing details of the quilted black leather jacket that looks out on the tiles of the dance terrier.

If you look at the British aristocrats and the German merchants here, Holbein is the real one, not only the paintings, but also the two courtiers who grab the chalk paintings of Nicholas Karoo and Henry Howard and both lose their heads. ideal. To represent political power and economic influence, he needed not only the acquisition of optics and color theory and classical history, but also a gaze through the guise to give the greatest distinction of all: selfishness.

The result is a new kind of image, the truth of paintings that the English have never seen, and the truth that even the sitter himself could be stunned. In the second half of Hilary Mantel’s “Wolf Hall,” Thomas Cromwell stared at his portrait just returning from Getty to Flick Madison, and whether it was true that “I looked like a murderer.” I’m wondering. His son looks at Holbain, looks at his father, and asks, “Did you not know?”

Holbein: Capture the character

The Morgan Library & Museum at 225 Madison Avenue in Manhattan until May 15th. (212) 685-0008, morgan.org.


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