Hans Holbein: Facts and Information

Here are some facts about Hans Holbein.

  • Hans Holbein was a German print maker and artist and one of the greatest 16th century portrait painters.
  • He is often called the Hans Holbein the Younger; his father who had the same name was known as the Hans Holbein the Elder.

  • He was born in Augsburg, Germany, in about 1497 and spent his early years painting in Switzerland. He also created designs for books and stained glass windows.
  • While in Switzerland, he joined the painter’s corporation and was asked to paint murals for Basel town hall. Today, some of the drawings for the work are on display in Basel’s Kunstmuseum.
  • During the early 1530s, Hans Holbein moved to England and became King Henry VIII‘s official portrait painter. He also designed cups, books and jewellery for the King and his family.
  • He painted many paintings of Tudor royalty  while employed as the King’s portrait painter. Some of these works were so small that they could fit in the palm of a hand.
  • Henry VIII asked Hans Holbein to paint Anne of Cleves so he could decide whether or not to marry her. Although he liked what he saw in the portrait, the marriage only lasted a year. Apparently, Ann didn’t look as beautiful in real life as she did in her portrait.
Anne of Cleves Portrait
Anne of Cleves
  • In England, Holbein painted portraits of Thomas Cromwell and Sir Thomas More, who had opposite political views. Today the two paintings are on display together in New York’s Frick Museum.
  • During his life, Holbein also painted many religious works. One of his most famous is the Dance of Death, a series of woodcuts showing the figure of Death in different disguises.
  • Hans Holbein died from the plague in London, in 1543. He was buried in a communal burial pit in the grounds of St. Katherine Cree church in the City of London.
The Ambassadors
The Ambassadors
  • Holbein’s most famous painting is The Ambassadors, which is today in London’s National Gallery. The 1533 work features scientific and geometric symbols, as well as a distorted skull which can only be seen clearly when you look at the painting from a certain angle.