7 of 314 portraits by Hans Holbein the Younger
- Tudor and Jacobean Portraits Database
after Hans Holbein the Younger
oil on panel, late 16th century, based on a work of 1528
32 1/4 in. x 25 1/2 in. (819 mm x 648 mm)
New Date: After 1585.
Key findings: This painting dates from the late sixteenth or early seventeenth century. It is a very competently painted version.
This painting was purchased at Christie’s on 23 March 1979, lot 123. It is known to have been in the possession of Andries de Loo in 1604. From there it passed into the possession of Sir Walter Cope, the builder of Holland House. It was inherited by his son-in-law, Henry Rich, 1st Earl of Holland and became part of the collection of the Earl of Holland and Warwick at Holland House. Mrs. Addison, the daughter of the Countess of Holland and Warwick, owned the painting in 1735. The painting later belonged to the Eyre family and thence by inheritance to the 8th Viscount Galway. The Gallery purchased it from Lady Galway of Serlby Hall after it had featured in the Thomas More exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery in 1977-8.
Notes on likely authorship
The handling indicates that the painting was produced by a highly competent English or Anglo-Netherlandish painter. Susan Foister has commented that the underdrawing is quite different from Holbein’s own drawing but is a careful record of the details in the portrait, and she has suggested that the painter may have been working directly from the original work.
Commentary on painting style, technique
The composition is skilfully balanced in terms of tonal range – the blacks, browns and greys all complement each other. Red and yellow pigments are used to enhance this effect, with a glimpse of vermilion red at Kratzer’s neck and bright yellow highlights on the instruments. The grey colour of the background is made up of black with red and yellow ochres. There is a darker red border surrounding the painting.
Different kinds of brushstrokes have been used to evoke different textures in the painting. Fine brushstrokes in a variety of colours have been used to depict the individual hairs of the eyebrows. The eyelashes are described with brushstrokes being pulled through wet flesh paint. Very fine brushstrokes are used in the flesh areas, some only visible with magnification. Fine black brushstrokes have been used to soften the outline of the hat into the hair. The details and highlights of the instruments describe the texture of wood and metal.
Justification for dating
The portrait is dated to 1528 on the inscription on the letter because it is a direct copy of Holbein’s original painting. Analysis of the first board (board A) through dendochronology identifies the date of the last tree ring to be AD1577, giving a conjectural usage date of AD1585-1617.
Drawing and transfer technique
There is fine underdrawing visible through the paint surface at high magnification, which has a sparkly appearance. The underdrawing is mainly underneath the flesh paint and some of the instruments. There is also thicker underdrawing, probably in a carbon-based medium, marking the reddish brown border round the painting. There is also underdrawing under the words on the letter.
The underdrawing in the face is careful, most likely following a tracing or pattern, and the paint closely follows the underdrawn lines. There are fine drawn details for the eyebrows and the knuckles. There are fine drawn outlines for the instruments on the table, but there are also some more sketchy lines in the drawing for the edges of the document and the rounded end of the ruler, showing some searching for the line. Incised lines can be seen below the words on the letter, made at drawing stage. The position of the letter was changed at painting stage as it does not follow the lines of the underdrawing.
Relevance to other known versions
The original portrait by Holbein is now in the Louvre, Paris. It is painted on oak panel and dated 1528. Although there is no surviving preparatory study for this portrait, underdrawing revealed that there have been some alterations made to the left eye and the objects on the table (Foister, 2004, p. 60).
- Another version came up for sale at Christie’s on 25 October 1990, lot 41.
Chamberlain, Arthur Bensley, Hans Holbein the Younger, 2 vols., 1913, I, p. 328
Foister, Susan, Holbein's Ambassadors: Making and Meaning, The National Gallery, 1997
Foister, Susan, Holbein in England, 2004
Foister, Susan, 'Nicholas Kratzer' in Starkey, David, ed., Henry VIII: A European Court in England, National Maritime Museum, 1991a, p. 70 (no. V.13)
Foister, Susan, 'Workshop or Followers? Underdrawing in Some Portraits Associated with Hans Holbein the Younger' in Proceedings of the 9th Louvain-la-Neuve Colloque sur le dessin sous-jacent dans la peinture, 1991b, pp 113-124
Ganz, Paul, The Paintings of Hans Holbein, 1950, p. 48
Scharf, George, A List of the Most Noteworthy Pictures in the National Portrait Exhibition at South Kensington, Victoria & Albert Museum, 1866, (no. 2)
Trapp, Joseph Burney, 'The King's Good Servant', Sir Thomas More, National Portrait Gallery, 1977-78, p. 95 (no. 187)
Walpole, Horace, Anecdotes of Painting in England, 1849, p. 126
Christie's, Friday 23rd March 1979, p. 82 (lot. 123)
Exhibition of the Royal House of Tudor, The New Gallery, 1890, p. 45 (no. 129)
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Compare high-resolution images against the painting - mainly x-ray and infra-red photography images, but sometimes UV or raking light images - side by side with the ability to zoom in on details.
The panel has a convex warp and is thin for its size. There is slight movement in the panel when being handled. The paint layers are in good condition overall. There are small areas of wear in the paint surface, for example in the lettering and at the edge of collar where the underdrawing has been exposed. There are very small areas of damage and loss around the edges of the panel, likely to be caused by framing and handling. The most recent varnish and retouchings are in good condition and overall the panel has a good visual appearance. There are areas of loss along the right-hand join which are visible in x-ray and have been filled and retouched. There are numerous retouchings in the background.
Number of boards: 3
Panel Orientation: Vertical
Panel condition observations
In the records for the sale of this picture in 1979 there is a written note recording the condition of the panel: 'curling like anything - almost as if painted on a cylinder'. But there is no mention of structural treatment in the 1979 condition report. The panel has a vertical convex warp. Although in a stable condition there is very slight movement in the right-hand join. There is no cradle or other supports on the reverse of the panel. The reverse is in a good condition with no evidence of having been thinned. There are three seals and two paper labels on the reverse. The largest paper label is a letter regarding the provenance of the painting. However, the paper has degraded and parts of it are now lost. There are also fragments of patterned paper attached to strips of canvas running in a horizontal line in the upper half of the panel. It is unclear why this has been attached to the reverse. The paper label was removed and is to be preserved in the archive.
An examination of tree rings, which can help to provide the earliest possible felling dates for the wood used for the panel. The technique can also indicate the geographical origin of the wood.
Number of boards: 3
Last date of tree ring: 1577
The panel is made of three boards in vertical alignment, labelled A to C from the left (from the front). Board A has a fairly straight grain and matched sequences for eastern Baltic reference data. Boards B and C are markedly different from board A, as the grain is not as straight, and these boards do not match against any reference data. The date for the last heartwood tree ring for Board A was found to be 1577. As there is no sapwood present a terminus post quem date can be applied to the panel, and adding the minimum expected number of sapwood rings suggests that the tree used for this board was felled after 1585. Board A was 270 mm wide at its lower end, which is within the typical range for boards used in panel paintings. As this picture is undated and board A is unlikely to have been significantly trimmed, it is suitable to apply an Eastern Baltic 8-40 year LEHR- usage range to this panel; this gives a conjectural usage-date range of 1585-1617.
A technique used to identify changes in composition beneath the surface of the paint layers and to understand the physical structure of a panel or canvas.
Broad brushstrokes can be faintly seen across the panel indicating that a thin white priming layer, containing lead white, has been applied. The wood grain of the panel can be clearly seen (see x-ray mosaic 01). As expected with closely produced copies, there do not appear to be any pentimenti. The x-ray shows the panel's good condition: there is hardly any damage and just a few losses along slight openings in the joins. At the top-left corner there is a diagonal crack in the panel with associated paint loss. Around the edge of the panel are regular holes which have been filled and retouched. These are likely to be nail holes from a previous fixing or framing device. The paint in the face has been highly worked and in x-ray small brushstrokes can be seen, particularly around the cheeks, indicating the modelling of the flesh. The hands have been painted in a more straightforward way and there is little working in the areas of highlight. On the reverse of the painting are several seals which can be seen in x-ray. There are also strips of patterned paper attached to canvas pieces on the reverse. These show up very clearly in x-ray but what they are remains unclear.
A technique used to observe the layers beneath the paint surface which can reveal underdrawing and changes to the initial design.
Susan Foister's catalogue entry for the National Maritime Museum exhibition Henry VIII: A European Court in England, to which this painting was lent, comments that 'the underdrawing is a careful record in chalk of details present in the finished painting, like shadows in the face and hands. It is quite different from Holbein's own fluent brush drawing and suggests a painter working close to Holbein and direct from the original finished portrait'. (Foister, 1991a, p. 70).
Susan Foister has also described the drawing as being hesitant in the objects on the table, but more confident in the hatching on the face. She also observed a fine arch to the eyebrow, and feathery strokes. It was noted that hatching is not characteristic of Holbein's drawing (Foister, 1991b, pp. 113-24).
Observations from IRR carried out in 2008
The underdrawing is fine and light (see IRR mosaic 01, IRR mosaic 02 and IRR mosaic 03). There are darker, thicker lines of underdrawing marking out the area for the red ochre border. This may be a dry carbon-based medium.
The clearly drawn outlines for the elements of the composition can be seen with infrared reflectogrpahy. Most of the painting follows these outlines, except the document on the table where the position and angle was changed, and moved a little further to the left than in the underdrawing. The rounded top of the ruler is painted further to the left than in the underdrawing, in order to correspond with the change in the position of the edge of the document. The underdrawing in the face is careful, most likely to be following a tracing or pattern, and the paint closely follows the underdrawn lines. There are fine drawn details for the eyebrows and the knuckles. There are fine drawn outlines for the instruments on the table, but there are also some more sketchy lines in the drawing for the edges of the document and the rounded end of the ruler, showing some searching for the line.
Investigation into microscopic pigment samples or samples of other media in order to help with dating, to reveal the order of the paint layers and help to understand the painting techniques used.
Paint samples were taken to analyse the pigments and layer structure of the painting in January 2009.
Sample 3: The brown is a mixture of plant black, red ochre, yellow ochre and possibly smalt.
The red was mixed into the black to vary the tone and create modelling. The yellow ochre is in the normal rounded form.
Sample 4: The black of the collar is bone black, with rounded and softer particles than plant black. It lies over or next to the brown paint and is a mixture of two paints. A little red lake could be seen in the dispersion, perhaps mixed in to give a cooler tone.
Sample 3b: The intense black is bone black. There are traces of lamp black but it is difficult to be sure that these are original.
Instruments on the shelf
Sample 1b: Red cord on the cylinder dial was identified as dry process vermilion.
Sample 2b: The black marks on the semicircular dial were identified as bone black.
Sample 5: Yellow highlights on the semicircular dial are a mixture of yellow ochre, a little yellow lake, traces of black, and what appears to be some artificial yellow: but this is not obviously lead-tin yellow on the surface and may simply be lead white with yellow lake.
Sample 2: The dull greenish grey of the upper-left background contains quite fine plant black, with yellow ochre and lead white.
Sample 4b: The fawn colour of the background appeared to be a mixture of yellow and red ochres with some black, and it also seems to contain some smalt, but this was not verified.
Sample 6: The sample shows a white chalk ground. Staining revealed protein in the mixture which confirms the presence of size. There is a pale priming layer over this, made with lead white, traces of orange red lead and lamp black. A very large lead soap can be seen pushing up into the red ochre paint above. Although there are some slight indications that some lead soaps may be formed from red lead, it seems most likely that, as the lead soap craters are present over the entire picture surface, the lead soaps are formed from white lead.
The red ochre of the top layer is moderately finely ground and has the rod-shaped particles noted in ochres of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Some yellow and a little white lead are also present in the mixture. The rod-like red ochre particles are clearly visible in dispersions.
An examination of the construction of paint layers, glazes and condition often using a microscope. This method provides important evidence concerning an artist’s technique and paint handling and can reveal a specific artist’s characteristic painting style.
Painting style and method
The balance of tone in the composition is skillfully managed. The brown, black and grey areas are carefully modulated. Different red and yellow pigments are used for various effects, with some bright red accents, such as the glimpse of red garment at the neck and the red cord upper left, and with yellow highlights on the tools and instruments.
The panel has a thick chalk ground layer. Over this there is a priming layer containing lead white, traces of red lead and lamp black. Under the microscope, unusually small lead soaps can be seen all over the surface of the painting. These appear to be migrating up from the priming layer (see Paint sampling). The lead white used is very fine.
Underdrawing and incised lines
Sparkly particles of underdrawing can be seen under passages of flesh paint as well as under some of the instruments (see micro 03, micro 04, micro 07, and micro 11). Darker, thicker underdrawing can be seen marking out the reddish brown border around the painting - this has possibly been drawn with a dry, carbon medium (see micro 09). Underdrawing can also be seen under the words on the letter, possibly in a more fluid medium (see micro 16). Incised lines have been used to mark the position of the written script (see micro 17). Incised lines can also be seen in the dials on the shelf in the upper-left corner of the painting (see micro 19). Incised lines can be seen with raking light below the words on the letter. These extend beyond the painted edge of the letter and this indicates that the incised lines were made in the surface of the ground at the same time as the underdrawing was made. The position of the document on the table was changed at the painting stage, and does not follow the outlines of the underdrawing. It was moved upwards and the angle of its position on the table was changed.
Paint layer structure
The flesh seems to have been painted after the black of the coat collar, as it can be seen to overlap this in some areas under the microscope. The painter makes use of very fine, diagonal brushstrokes to soften the outlines of some areas of flesh. These can be seen with the naked eye in the area of the temple against the hair (see micro 06). Under the microscope similar diagonal marks have been used on the left side of the mouth. The marks have been made into wet paint and are not visible with the naked eye. Very fine texture has also been used in other areas of flesh paint, particularly in the highlights. More diagonal marks have been painted under the mouth in red (see micro 11). The line of the mouth has been emphasised with a very liquid line, rich in oil medium, of black paint.
Eyes and eyebrows
Very fine details have been used to execute these features. Fine brushstrokes in a variety of colours have been used to depict the individual hairs of the eyebrows (see micro 20). Care has been taken over the gradation of the colours in the iris and the highlight has been carefully applied. The eyelashes are described with brushstrokes being pulled through wet flesh paint, creating softly blended wet-in-wet strokes (see micro 01).
Fine black brushstrokes have been used to soften the outline of the hat into the hair (see micro 18). Although these strokes are made wet-in-wet with the brown paint they do not seem to have been pulled down from the black paint of the hat as has been seen on copies of Henry VIII (see micro 17). Instead it is closer in style to the softening seen on the fur collar of Thomas More (NPG 4358). The hair that hangs around the sitter's face has been blocked in with a dry, brown underpaint. A more liquid, opaque brown paint has been applied on top with individual hairs depicted in black and white. Wet-in-wet blending is also evident in this area, adding to the overall texture of the hair (see micro 13).
Coat, collar and cuffs, and hat
The brocade pattern of the black collar has been achieved by painting a darker paint for the pattern over a grey underlayer. The coat is tied up with a lace, and grey highlights are depicted with comma-like marks - very similar to those seen on the tassels of NPG 4358. The same grey colour and marks can be seen on the cuffs. A dense black paint, similar to that used for the pattern of the undershirt can be seen on the very edges of the cuff. The black in the dark costume appears to be plant black (rather than bone black as found in other parts). Red ochre, rather than vermilion, is the main red mixed into the brown of the sitter's costume to vary the tone. Yellow ochre was also found in the browns, in its normal rounded form. The rounded and softer particles of the black in the collar suggest that it is bone black. A little red lake has been found, mixed with the black to give a cooler tone. The intense black of the hat appears to be bone black, with rounded particles. There are also traces of lamp black but it is difficult to determine whether these are original (see Paint sampling).
Instruments and table top
The details and highlights of the instruments describe the texture of wood and metal. The metal screw section of the divider hanging on the back wall has been blocked in with a simple, straight line of brown paint. The coiled edges of the screw have then been painted over this in a semi-transparent medium-rich paint and highlights applied on top (see micro 05). The outlines of the divider have been emphasised with a black outline in places. This appears to have been applied as the last layer. The highlight on the wooden handle of the bradawl (a tool used to make indentations in wood or other materials) on the table has been applied quite thickly, in a similar way to impasto found on Poyntz's hat decoration (NPG 4952) (see micro 07, micro 08, micro 09 and micro 10).
There is no indication of underdrawing for the symbols, numbering and lines on the dials, but there may be some underdrawing visible on the dial held in the sitter's left hand. The paint is brown and has the same crumbly texture as the paint used for the wording of the letter. The black used for the marks on the cylinder dial on the shelf has the rounded particles of bone black. The red cord on the cylinder dial has been painted very finely. A dark black line is painted under a dark, translucent red with bright red highlights. The vermilion red of the cord is a deliberately bright element in the composition and is much more vivid than the red ochre of the border. The yellow highlights are also bright, made with a mixture of yellow pigments (see Paint sampling). The brown paint of the table has been painted around the objects and sitter's hands.
Background and Border
The background colour behind the instruments is a dull grey/green colour with large particles of black and dull red/orange coloured particles - this appears to be a mixture of yellow and red ochres, some black and possibly some smalt (see Paint sampling). The upper-left shadow behind the instruments is a mixture of black, yellow ochre and white.
There is a dull red framing border round all edges of the painting. This border contains finely ground red ochre, and some yellow ochre and lead white. The red ochre has rod-shaped particles of the type noted several times in sixteenth and seventeenth-century ochres.
Order of construction
- Chalk ground
- Pale warm grey priming layer
- Underdrawing, Incised lines made in the surface
- The upper paint layers were applied in a relatively straight forward manner. The elements of the composition were painted first with some blending and modulations in tone, and then details and highlights
- Some flesh was painted after the black of the collar
- The brown paint of the table was evidently painted after the objects on the table and the sitter's hands were painted
- A final painted outline was applied in several areas, for example around the dividers
Lead white, bone black, plant black, vermilion, red lake, earth pigments, red ochre, yellow ochre, yellow lake, possibly lead-tin yellow, smalt
Changes to composition/pentimenti
The angle of document on the table was changed at the painting stage (see above).
A method which helps to reveal past restoration and the extent of varnish layers.
Numerous retouchings in the upper half of the background show up dark under ultra violet light (see UV 01). The retouchings cover up abrasion in this area of paint. Other retouchings are visible under ultra violet light in the costume, around the edges of the panel and along the right-hand panel join. There are also areas of highly fluorescing material which appear as a series of small dots around the dials in the upper-left corner and also in the lower-right corner near the edge. In normal light these areas appear as small raised areas of paint and are presumably old retouchings in a different medium. The face is in very good condition with only a very few retouchings in the brightly fluorescing medium. In the dark coat and hat a fluorescing coating is visible with a very brushy appearance and random application. This is likely to be a varnish layer and as it is not continuous across the surface it seems likely that it is an old varnish and that the painting could have been cleaned selectively.