Holbein Court Painter of the Reformation

Andrew Pettegree charts Hans Holbein’s path from Germany to England and points to the ironies of his reputation as a great Protestant painter.

Hans Holbein, who was born 500 years ago this year, was one of the great painters of the northern Renaissance. Born and raised in Augsburg, he achieved lasting fame in England, as the leading artist at the court of Henry VIII. Holbein’s paintings of the king, his wives and courtiers, provide some of the most famous images of the age, and enshrined his place in the trinity of the great German artists of the Reformation: Dürer, Holbein, and Cranach. Yet there is a certain irony in celebrating Holbein as a great Protestant painter. Holbein’s career was closely interwoven with the events of the Reformation. He was patronised by some of its leading figures, and produced some fine examples of the new Protestant art. But personally he viewed Protestantism with some distaste, not least for its adverse effect on the artistic traditions in which he had been raised.

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