Hans Holbein the Younger Biography

Hans Holbein the Younger, a renowned artist from the Holy Roman Empire, is celebrated for his exceptional talent in portrait painting during the 16th century. His distinctive Northern Renaissance style and prolific contributions to book design have solidified his status as one of the greatest artists of his time. Originally from Augsburg, Holbein found success in Basel, where he created murals, religious works, stained glass windows, and printed books. Seeking new opportunities, he ventured to England in 1526 and quickly established himself, receiving patronage from influential figures such as Anne Boleyn and Thomas Cromwell. By 1535, he became the official painter of King Henry VIII, capturing the essence of the royal family and nobles through his portraits. These artworks provide a valuable glimpse into the court’s dynamics during Henry’s transformative reign over the Church of England.

Quick Facts

  • Died At Age: 46
  • Family: father: Hans Holbein the Elder, siblings: Ambrosius Holbein, children: Philipp Holbein I
  • Born Country: Germany
  • Renaissance Painters
  • German Men
  • Died on: 1543
  • Place of death: London, England
  • City: Augsburg, Germany

Childhood & Early Life

Hans Holbein the Younger was born in the free imperial city of Augsburg during the winter of 1497–98. He was the son of Hans Holbein the Elder, a renowned artist and draughtsman. Holbein had an older brother named Ambrosius and another brother named Sigmund. Both Holbein and Ambrosius followed in their father’s footsteps as artists.

Career in Basel

In 1515, Holbein and Ambrosius moved to Basel, Switzerland, where they worked as journeymen painters. This placed Holbein among the second generation of 16th-century German artists, with Albrecht Dürer, Matthias Grünewald, and Lucas Cranach the Elder already established as artists. Holbein’s work during this time was diverse and inspired by other artists. His travels to Italy in 1517 and France in 1524 influenced his religious and artistic beliefs.

In Basel, Holbein joined the painters’ corporation in 1519 and became a citizen in 1520. He began producing significant mural decorations in the Great Council Chamber of Basel’s town hall by the following year. Holbein was part of a social circle that included Basel publishers and humanist scholars. He received commissions for portraits from this circle, including the portrait of the humanist scholar Bonifacius Amerbach in 1519. Holbein also designed woodcuts for title pages and book illustrations during this time. His most popular work was the ‘Dance of Death’, a series of 41 scenes depicting “Death” intruding into the lives of people from various levels of society.

In 1523, Holbein drew the portrait of the Dutch humanist scholar Desiderius Erasmus, portraying him as a man disengaged from the world.

First Visit to England

In 1526, Holbein traveled to England with a letter of introduction from Erasmus. He found great success upon his arrival and drew portraits of notable figures such as Sir Thomas More and More’s family. Holbein spent about three years in England before returning to Basel in 1528.

Return to Basel

After his return to Basel, Holbein lived there for four years before going back to England in 1532. He purchased a house in Basel and converted to the new faith of Lutheranism. In 1528, he painted ‘The Artist’s Family’, a portrait of his wife and two children.

Back in England

Holbein spent the rest of his life in England after returning in 1532. He received patronage from Anne Boleyn and Thomas Cromwell and was appointed the king’s painter by 1535. In the final ten years of his life, Holbein produced about 150 portraits of royalty and nobility. These portraits showcased his deep interest in plants, animals, and decorative accessories. He also incorporated symbolism and allusion in his art to explore his subjects’ psyche.

Personal Life & Family

Holbein married Elsbeth Binsenstock-Schmid, a widow, and they had a son named Philipp. They reportedly had several other children, including a daughter named Katherina. However, Holbein became estranged from his wife, and they lived separately from 1532 onwards. Holbein fathered two children in England, but their mother(s) are unknown. He was known to have had mistresses, including Magdalena Offenburg.

Death & Legacy

Hans Holbein the Younger passed away between October 7 and November 29, 1543, at the age of 45. The cause of his death is debated, with some suggesting he died from the plague and others proposing an infection. Throughout his career, Holbein’s paintings were highly valued, and he is considered one of the most exquisite portraitists and brilliant draftsmen in history. His works provide a glimpse into the physical appearances of his famous contemporaries.

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