Philip Melanchthon

This portrait of Philip Melanchthon (1497–1560), the famous Protestant reformer, recalls the images of erudite men that Holbein painted during his years in Basel. Holbein never met Melanchthon and probably relied on a print as the basis for the likeness. This is the only known complete kapselbild (portrait with a lid) by the artist, and its inscription asserts that Holbein’s art rivals nature, a well-known theme from antiquity that would have appealed to Melanchthon as well as to the recipient of this object. Given its elaborate decoration and sophisticated theme, the piece may have been intended as a gift for someone of high status, perhaps even King Henry VIII of England.

Hans Holbein the Younger (1497/98–1543)
Philip Melanchthon, ca. 1535
Oil on panel, with lid
Inscribed inside the lid, in Latin: Behold Melanchthon’s features, almost as if alive: Holbein has captured them, with the utmost skill.
Niedersächsisches Landesmuseum Hannover; PAM 798

Niedersachsisches Landesmuseum, Hannover