Expression through Ornament

In addition to painting portraits and designing prints, Holbein composed small ornamental patterns and allegorical images for fabrication by goldsmiths. Holbein’s drawings in pen and wash presented plans for intricate pendants, hat badges, clasps, and gold-and-enamel book covers that adopted patterns and motifs popular in English and European decorative arts. Noble, wealthy individuals commissioned jewels and wore them prominently as expressions of their status and erudition. Many jewels featured emblems, also known as devices—motifs that served as visual representations of aspirations and values. Although no jewels designed by Holbein survive today, sixteenth-century French and English pendants and hat badges, on view here, demonstrate the sophistication and finesse of these precious objects.

This section also features An Allegory of Passion—a large, enigmatic painting whose lozenge format is unique in Holbein’s oeuvre. The work draws on the artist’s talent for ornaments and emblems and might have been created for a courtier with an interest in the poetry of Francesco Petrarch, the fourteenth-century Italian writer and scholar.