King Henry VIII, c. 1539-40
By Hans Holbein
In the Public Domain
A recent article in the local newspaper reminded me about something—actually someone—I’ve been wanting to know more about. The story heralded the 500th anniversary this week of the day when Henry Tudor became King Henry VIII. My interest isn’t in Henry, who still gets in the news, and who most everyone agrees was not a very nice person even if he made England a world power.
No, my interest was piqued by the iconic portrait of King Henry VIII, which accompanied the story and is similar to Today’s Image. In the painting, Henry is wearing a red robe with enormous shoulder pads and—is that a beret?—a feathery black and white cap. I think I’ve also seen it in TV ads for beer. The portrait was painted by Hans Holbein, who is the person I’m interested in.
Not having studied art at university, and not having a background in art history or fine art, I admit I did not know who Hans Holbein was.
Since I started art blogging, his name crops up every now and then on the internet in articles on art or painting or art museum sites, for example. From the context, I figured maybe he was an Old Master, or not, or at least a painter who had gained a reputation, but it was a very long time ago.
Also, a friend who’s an artist told me he uses only Holbein’s, referring to Holbein Watercolors. Putting two and two together, I figured this guy must be someone important in the art world, what with his name on a whole line of artist’s paints.
So, I did a little online research. Turns out, there were two Hans Holbeins, who were referred to as the Elder and the Younger. The Younger (c. 1497 – 1543) is reportedly the one who painted the portrait of Henry VIII.
He was a German artist in the religious Renaissance style of the era. After the Reformation, he moved to London in 1526. He must have been good, because he worked for such notables as Thomas More, Thomas Cromwell, and Anne Boleyn. In 1535 he became the King’s Painter and rendered portraits of the king and the royal family. He is regarded as a realist for his extremely finely detailed likenesses in his portraits. However, one source said his portraits showed surprising little character and personality--the physiognomy--of his subjects. That's a little nit-picky.
He painted portraits of some of Henry’s wives including Anne of Cleves, Henry’s fourth wife. I read that after trying to maintain an alliance with Rome with his marriage to Anne, Henry divorced her because she was not as beautiful in person as Holbein’s painting made her appear. It’s an understatement to say that is the risk of taking artist’s license.
Holbein died of a plague that was going around in 1543.
So how did Holbein’s name get on the paint? According to their website, Holbein Art Materials (they make all kinds of products for artists) “is a family owned Japanese Company with head offices in Osaka, Japan. The company was formed just before the turn of the last century [I think they mean the century before last], and took the name of the much revered European artist Hans Holbein in the 1930's.” It says they have 75 percent of the Japanese artist market with more than 300 employees and 12 color chemists. Interesting.
So, now you know at least as much as I do about Hans Holbein.