Holbein in England: Room Guide: Room 1 Holbein’s First Visit to England 1526–8

Hans Holbein the Elder Portrait of Sigmund Holbein

Holbein arrived in England for the first time in 1526, following a highly successful decade working in Basel. His ability to design and paint wall-paintings and altarpieces and to produce patterns for woodcuts, metalwork and stained glass was founded on the training he must have received in the successful Augsburg workshop of his father Hans Holbein the Elder. The Humanist Erasmus, a Basel resident, provided Holbein’s introductions to England, and Holbein’s portraits of him offered a template for the representation of many of his English sitters. Holbein evidently hoped to pursue a lucrative career as a court artist in England. He spent the early part of 1527 painting a battle scene and cosmic ceiling design for Henry VIII’s banqueting hall and theatre at Greenwich Palace.

Hans Holbein Lady with a Squirrel and a Starling

He had painted few portraits in Basel, but these two years in England saw him produce more than ever before. Experimenting with novel portrait forms, he used coloured chalk with freedom and delicacy to record his sitters’ individuality in glance and expression before painting them in oils.