Courtiers and Merchants

After returning to England in 1532, Holbein became painter to King Henry VIII and found avid patrons among members of the royal court. Holbein’s drawings of these courtiers, in colored chalks and ink on pink prepared paper, reveal the artist’s close, first-hand study of his sitters’ faces. Paying scrupulous attention to clothing and personal jewels, he portrayed his subjects in a variety of modes and scales, including small portable paintings. Round formats were associated with both classical and Christian conceptions of eternity and thus especially appropriate to a portrait’s commemorative function.

Holbein also depicted members of the Hanseatic League, German merchants residing in an enclave known as the London Steelyard (Stalhof). These portraits may have been sent home to family members, or they may have hung together in the Guildhall of the Steelyard as a statement of corporate identity.